Private Evelyn Ernest Owen

Service number NX22028
Birth Date 15 May 1915
Birth Place Australia: New South Wales, Wollongong
Death Date 01 April 1949
Death Place Australia: New South Wales, Wollongong
Final Rank Private
Place Wollongong
Conflict/Operation Second World War, 1939-1945

Inventor of the Owen sub-machine gun, Evelyn Owen was born on 15 May 1915 in Wollongong, New South Wales. Despite the considerable efforts of his parents to steer him towards less dangerous pursuits, the young Owen was obsessed with guns; with making them, modifying them and firing them. At the age of eight he began his experiments by building his own shotguns from which he would fire stones at rubbish heaps.

Over the ensuing years Owen pursued his hobby with great passion. At one stage he transferred his interest to bomb making, once being wounded in the stomach by shrapnel from one of his explosives. On another occasion he shot himself in the stomach while trying out a new kind of bolt in an old rifle. He then turned his interest to sub-machine guns, making each of the prototypes himself, having learned metal and lathe work in the workshop of a family friend.

The weapon that would eventually bear his name, the Owen sub-machine gun, had its genesis in 1931, but he did not perfect it until 1938. Repeated testing proved that little could jam or interrupt the gun's rate of fire, making it superior to the Thompson gun. But the following year when he attempted to interest the military, Owen was rebuffed, being told that neither the Australian or British armies had any need for such a weapon.

Owen enlisted in the AIF in May 1940 but, just before embarking for the Middle East with his unit, he managed to interest the manager of the Port Kembla plant of Lysaght's Newcastle Works, Vincent A. Wardell, in the gun. Wardell spoke to Sir Percy Spender, Minister for the Army, who had Owen transferred to the Central Inventions Board.

In June of 1941 Owen was discharged from the AIF and began work at Lysaght who manufactured his gun. In September 1941 Owen's gun was ready for testing against similar weapons; the Thompson, the Sten and the German Burgman. In the first test the Owen proved more accurate and able to group its shots better. Having then been variously immersed in water, mud and sand, the Owen proved itself almost impossible to jam while the other weapons faltered and eventually became unworkable. Those present at the test agreed that the Owen was the simplest, cheapest and toughest of sub-machine guns.

By late 1942 the Owen was being used in jungle fighting against the Japanese in New Guinea. More than 45,000 Owen guns were produced during the Second World War and they continued in use during the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency and in the early years of the Vietnam War. Owen received £10,000 in royalties and from the sale of patent rights, and used the money to establish a sawmill near Wollongong, where he lived alone. A heavy drinker, Owen was admitted to Wollongong hospital where he died from a ruptured gastric ulcer on 1 April 1949 at the age of 33.


Date of birth 15 May 1915 Wollongong, NSW.
Other 1931 Began work on what was to be become the Owen sub-machine gun.
Other 1938 Perfected his design of the Owen sub-machine gun. The gun proved to be superior to the favoured Thompson gun as its fire was rarely jammed or interupted.
Other 1940 Worked at Lysaghts Works, where the Owen gun was developed.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 25 May 1940 Enlisted in the 2/17th Infantry Battalion of the AIF. The Manager of the Port Kembla Plant of Lysaghts Newcastle Works came across Owen's developments and helped have Owen transferred to the Army Central Inventions Board to work on the gun.
Date of discharge 25 June 1941 Discharged from the AIF as he was required for employment in a reserved occupation. Owen then began working at Lysaghts who were to manufacture his gun.
Other 19 September 1941 The Owen Gun was ready for testing against similar weapons
Other 1942 Went into production of Owen sub-machine guns for use in the Second World War. The Owen Gun proved to be ideal for jungle fighting in New Guinea, but proved to be less useful in the longer range fighting of the Korean War.
Date of death 01 April 1949 Wollongong, NSW.

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