Sir John Guise Cowley GC KBE CB (AM exchanger)

b. 20/08/1905 Mussoorie, India. d. 07/01/1993 Brockenhurst, Hampshire.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 31/05/1935 to 01/06/1935 Quetta, India.

Sir John Guise Cowley (1905-1993) was born on 20th August 1905 in Mussoorie, India, the son of Army Chaplain, the Reverend Henry Guise Beatson and Ethel Cowley (nee Prowse). In 1907, the family returned to England, where Henry became Vicar of Stinsford in Dorset about a mile from Dorchester. John had a brother, Colin Patrick, who later became Canon Emeritus of Winchester Cathedral.

Sir John G Cowley

John was first educated by a governess, then at the age of 8, he began at Connaught House, then Wellington College and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, neither of which he enjoyed, though he shone at mathematics. He left the Wellington Officer Training Corps following an incident involving the smoking of a cigarette. It seemed that an Army career was not suited to John.

Something changed, however, and he was commissioned into the Corps of Royal Engineers on 3rd September 1927. In 1932 he sailed for India, where he was to join the Madras Sappers and Miners at Bangalore in March as Company Officer. In 1933 he was posted to Quetta (now Pakistan) with his Madras Sappers.

On 31st May 1935, following the huge earthquake, he and his party were the first to start relief work at the civil hospital, where the walls had collapsed, bringing down the roof onto the inmates. At first the men were too few in number to lift off the roof, so they raised pieces up for short periods while Cowley crawled under them and dragged out survivors from their beds. The patients were already in the hospital before the earthquake and were mostly quite helpless. Cowley lifted many men in his arms regardless of the warnings that they were all suffering from many different illnesses. Many men would have died if not for Cowley’s bravery. On 19th November 1935, Cowley was awarded the Albert Medal for his gallantry. He received his AM on 14th July 1936 from King Edward VIII.

Shortly afterwards he took an exam in Urdu in order to lengthen his period of home leave from 6 to 8 months, he returned to England. That year he was appointed Instructor at Woolwich. Three years later, in 1938, he became a student at the Staff College, Camberley, but before he completed the course, he was posted to the War Office in 1939. Not long afterwards, he was posted to Cairo where, despite war raging in the desert, life was quite good.

He was promoted to Acting Lieutenant Colonel on 3rd February 1941 and when Rommel counter-attacked in North Africa he was besieged in Tobruk. After two months he was evacuated by sea and put in charge of the docks in Alexandria, Egypt. Cowley’s next appointment was to the staff of 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats). In 1942 he was posted to the Staff College at Haifa, but the day after his arrival, he joined 30 Corps.

In 1941, he married Irene Sybil Millen, and they had a son and three daughters. In February 1943, he was awarded the OBE. John was promoted to Brigadier in 1944 and posted to Algeria at Allied Forces HQ, which soon moved to Caserta, near Naples, Italy. He then joined 21 Army Group in Brussels to help the homeless and refugees in Belgium and Holland. At the end of the war, he moved to Minden, briefed to help restore the German economy. In 1946, he was awarded the CBE (Military).

He was promoted to Temporary Major General on 22nd January 1953 and was appointed Chief of Staff, HQ, Eastern Command. On 1st January 1954 he was made full Major General. In 1956 the Quartermaster-General, Sir Maurice Chilton, died at the beginning of the Suez Crisis and Cowley took over as acting QMG. In 1957, he was appointed Controller of Munitions in the Ministry of Supply but soon fell out with the Minister, Duncan Sandys. Sandys asked the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan to sack Cowley, but the PM refused, and was soon appointed Master-General of the Ordnance, a post he held from 1960 to 1962 when he retired from the Army. On 12th June 1958, he was knighted for his service.

He then sat on the board of a finance company, Bowmaker, and became involved in a property company with a friend. He also found time to be President of the New Forest Preservation Society and Chairman of Governors of Wellington College. He died, aged 87, on 7th January 1993 in Lymington, Hampshire, and he was cremated at Bournemouth Crematorium. His ashes were interred in the churchyard of St John the Baptist in Boldre, Hampshire. His widow’s ashes were placed with him on her death in 2001.

John’s medals including the GC, OBE, CBE, Knight Commander of the Order of Orange Nassau with Swords, Companion of the Order of the Bath, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, and 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal are split up, but his Albert Medal and George Cross were presented to Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire.





Kevin Brazier – Image of Cowley GC Grave at St John the Baptist Church, Boldre.