Sir John Rowlands GC KBE (Direct Recipient)

b. 23/09/1915 Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales. d. 04/06/2006 Sheffield, Yorkshire.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 1940-1943 England.

Sir John Samuel Rowlands (1915-2006) was born in Hawarden, Flintshire on 23rd September 1915, the son of Samuel and Sarah Rowlands (nee Evans) and was educated at the local Hawarden Grammar School, near Chester. He took a degree in Physics at the University of Wales, where he captained the university football side and was in the tennis team.

Sir John Rowlands

At the outbreak of World War II, Rowlands joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve. After undertaking pilot training at RAF Ternhill in Shropshire and gaining his pilots wings, he trained in armament engineering at RAF Manby in Lincolnshire. He was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer in the Technical Branch on 7 October 1940 and to Temporary Flight Lieutenant on 1 December 1941.

During World War II, despite being part of the RAFVR, he spent most of his time in the hazardous area of bomb disposal. John married Constance Wight in 1942 and they went on to have two daughters, Margaret and Alison. During his time in bomb disposal he worked on 150 bombs and 11 mines. The most notable incidents were  on 1st July 1942 in Cambridge, he dismantled an unidentified bomb, on 3rd August 1942 in Wolverhampton, cleared the town of 300 bombs, on 10th March 1943 in Chedburgh, dealt with two high explosive bombs in a crashed Stirling bomber, on 30th March 1943 at Mildenhall, dealt with a 1,000lb bomb which took 30 hours to defuse, and finally on 31st March 1943, he rendered safe a 500lb bomb.  He was invested with the GC by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 20 July 1945.

He was given a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force in September 1945 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant  and attended RAF Staff College in Haifa in 1946. He was subsequently promoted to Squadron Leader, dated 3 December 1946 but back-dated to January 1945. In 1947 he began a 5 year stint at Aldermaston where research was being done for the British Atom Bomb and he was one of the men who went to the Monte Bello Islands, off the Australian coast, for the first British atomic test. John was placed in command of the first atomic weapons unit in Bomber Command. Soon however, a more powerful weapon was to be developed – the Hydrogen Bomb. He returned to Aldermaston to become the RAF’s senior adviser to the project.

He became a Staff Officer on the British Defence Staff at Washington D. C. in 1961, and was promoted to Air Commodore on 1 July 1963. He became the Assistant Commandant (Technical) at the RAF College Cranwell in 1965. On 4 June 1968, he was appointed Director-General of Ground Training, with the acting rank of Air Vice-Marshal, made substantive on 1 July. He was promoted to Air Marshal and appointed Air Officer Commanding RAF Maintenance Command on 13 April 1970, where he remained until he retired in July 1973. During his final posting before retirement he was knighted by the Queen.

In civilian life he lent his considerable experience and energy to his role as Assistant Principal of Sheffield Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University). He was also the Vice-President of the Air Crew Association and President of its Sheffield branch. He died on 4th June 2006, aged 90 in Sheffield, and was cremated at Hutcliffe Crematorium. There is a Remembrance panel at the Crematorium in his memory. John’s medals including his GC, KBE, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, General Service Medal 1918-62, 1953 QEII Coronation Medal, 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal, 2002 QEII Golden Jubilee Medal and Air Efficiency Award are privately held.