Next of kin plaque: Company Sergeant Major Joseph Bernard McGowan, 30th Battalion, AIF

Accession Number REL50462
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Bronze
Maker Royal Arsenal Woolwich
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London, London
Date made c 1922
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Source credit to This item has been digitised with funding provided by Commonwealth Government.

Bronze next of kin plaque, showing on the obverse, Britannia holding a laurel wreath, the British lion, dolphins, a spray of oak leaves and the words 'HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR' around the edge. Beneath the main figures, the British lion defeats the German eagle. The initials 'ECP', for the designer Edward Carter Preston appear above the lion's right forepaw. A raised rectangle above the lion's head bears the name 'JOSEPH BERNARD McGOWAN'. A checker's mark, '60', is stamped into the plaque behind the lion's left back paw. The maker's mark, 'W' in a circle, is stamped into the reverse.
The plaque is contained in its original cardboard packaging. The original mailing envelope is with the plaque.

History / Summary

Born in Dubbo, New South Wales in 1879, Joseph Bernard McGowan was employed as a engineer at Waratah, Newcastle, when he enlisted in the AIF on 18 July 1915, shortly before his 36th birthday. After training he was posted a private, service number 473, to B Company of the newly raised 30th Battalion. The unit embarked from Sydney on HMAT Beltana, on 9 November.

After training in Egypt the battalion transferred to France for service on the Western Front in June 1916. McGowan was promoted to corporal in October. In December Divisional Orders noted the 'gallantry and meritorious service of Cpl McGowan who on occasions led patrols into No Man's Land with great courage and skill, gaining valuable information and being injured by Gas Shells on one occasion without receiving medical attention until a direct order to report himself was given.'

At the beginning of 1917 McGowan was promoted to sergeant, then to Company Sergeant Major (Warrant Officer Class 2) on 22 August. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for an action which took place 6 days later. The recommendation for the award reads: 'East of YPRES at POLYGON WOOD on 28th Sept. 1917 this N.C.O. showed exceptional courage and initiative. Our position at POLYGONZEKE was attacked at 5a.m. and the attack failed owing to machine gun and rifle fire and barrage. There were several posts of the enemy left, and C.S.M. McGowan seeing rifle fire from one decided to try and capture it. Placing a Lewis Gun in position to cover his advance, he advanced single-handed on the post. Two of the enemy were seen to line their parapet and fire on McGowan, but the Lewis gun immediately shot both through the head. The remaining enemy in this post surrendered, C.S.M. McGowan securing eleven prisoners./ At the same position during the afternoon of 29th Sept., Sergt. Johnson of our left flank as severely wounded during heavy hostile firing, the main artery of his arm being severed. Realising the seriousness of the wound and the need for instant action, C.S.M. McGowan proceeded under heavy shell fire and also exposed to the fire of snipers carried Sergt. Johnson on his back from our right flank to Coy. H. Qrs. dugout, in the rear of our centre line. His prompt action will probably result in this N.C.O.'s life being saved./ The courage and initiative displayed by C.S.M. McGowan have at all times set a very fine example, and I consider him deserving if special recognition.'

McGowan had been recommended for a commission when he was killed by a shell on 24 March 1918, while his Company was in reserve near Messines, Belgium. He is buried in the La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery.

This memorial plaque was sent to his widow Margaret (Madge) McGowan on 25 October 1922. The couple had married in Cobar, New South Wales in 1902 and had five surviving children. According to Mrs McGowan her husband had been employed as an engine driver and plate-layer, and had served with the New South Wales Scottish Rifles in the late 1890s. McGowan himself claimed on enlistment that he had served for 2 years and 8 months in the Boer War with the 'Australian Bushmen', and South African War campaign medal ribbons were sent back to Australia with his personal effects after his death. No Bushmen's unit served for this length of time, and McGowan's name is not listed on Australian, British or South African irregular unit nominal rolls for this war. As he married early in 1902, before the Boer War had ended, his wife is likely to have known about any wartime service. It is possible that McGowan minimised his railways employment and invented previous infantry experience so that he could serve in an infantry battalion in the AIF, rather than in a railway or engineering unit.