The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (473) Company Sergeant Joseph Bernard McGowan DCM, 30th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Place Europe: Belgium, Flanders, West-Vlaanderen, Messines
Accession Number AWM2016.2.292
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 18 October 2016
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Charis May, the story for this day was on (473) Company Sergeant Joseph Bernard McGowan DCM, 30th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

473 Company Sergeant Joseph Bernard McGowan DCM, 30th Battalion, AIF
KIA 24 March 1918
Photograph: P11699.001

Story delivered 18 October 2016

Today we remember and pay tribute to Company Sergeant Major Joseph Bernard McGowan.

Joseph McGowan was born on 18 December 1879 in Dubbo, New South Wales, to John and Emily McGowan. He served as a cadet as a boy and then later with the Scottish Rifles around Newcastle. He was also an apprentice with Robertson and Co. in Dubbo.

He served for nearly three years in South Africa during the Boer War. After his return to Australia, he settled in Cobar, and on 11 January 1902 he married Margaret Butt. Seven children were born to the couple in the following years, five of whom survived infancy.

McGowan worked in a variety of locations in Australia as an engine driver and plate layer with the railways. His work took the family to Newcastle. He also spent time in Lautoka, Fiji, working on the railway for CSR Sugar.

McGowan enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 July 1915 at Liverpool. After several weeks of training, he was posted to the newly raised 30th Battalion. He embarked with the battalion that November aboard the transport ship Beltana. Several months of training in the Egyptian desert followed, as well as a week in hospital suffering from lumbago.

The 30th Battalion sailed for France in June and it was not long until its men saw action. On 19 July Australian and British troops attacked the German Sugarloaf Salient at Fromelles. The 30th Battalion initially
played a supporting role, but this changed as Australian casualties mounted. By 8 am on 20 July the battle was over. The Australian 5th Division had suffered 5,533 casualties and was rendered ineffective as a fighting force.

McGowan was promoted to temporary corporal in August, and corporal in October. In December Brigadier General Harold “Pompey” Elliott wrote of McGowan’s gallantry in his routine orders. He had led four patrols into no man’s land, each time gaining valuable information. On one occasion he was wounded by a gas shell but refused treatment until ordered by a superior officer. His leadership and courage was undoubted, and he was promoted to sergeant in January 1917.

The 30th Battalion was involved in pursuing the German army as it withdrew to the prepared defensive positions known at the Hindenburg Line, and was given the honour of occupying the town of Bapaume. It also played a supporting role at Polygon Wood in September. On 28 September its positions were attacked by the Germans, who were driven off with heavy losses. Several German posts remained, however, and McGowan, now a company sergeant major, decided to capture one of them.

After placing a Lewis gun to cover his advance, he charged, and took the post single-handed, capturing 11 Germans along with their weapons and equipment. The following day McGowan rescued a wounded comrade from no man’s land under heavy artillery, rifle, and machine-gun fire. He carried the man to company headquarters some distance behind the front line, and this prompt action saved the man’s life. McGowan was recommended for special recognition and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The next few months were relatively quiet for the battalion. When the Germans began their Spring Offensive on 21 March, the battalion was in the front line near Messines. On 24 March, as the 30th Battalion was being relieved, the Germans shelled the Australian front line.

McGowan was killed during the bombardment. His body was laid to rest in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, near Wulverghem. He was 38 years old.

McGowan’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War. His photograph is on display beside the Pool of Reflection, with his wife Margaret and their daughter Amelia.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Company Sergeant Major Joseph Bernard McGowan, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

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