Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Chowne, Albert Edward (1920–1945)

by Margaret Barter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Albert Edward Chowne (1920-1945), by unknown photographer, c1944

Albert Edward Chowne (1920-1945), by unknown photographer, c1944

Australian War Memorial, 134484

Albert Edward Chowne (1920-1945), army officer, was born on 19 July 1920 in Sydney, seventh child of Balmain-born parents Arthur James Chowne, grocer, and his wife Frances Ellen, née Dalziel. The Chowne and Dalziel families were well known in the Willoughby district where Bert grew up. Educated at Chatswood Boys' Intermediate High and Naremburn Junior Technical schools, he started work in 1935 as a shirtcutter at David Jones Ltd. Chowne played for Gordon Rugby Union Football Club, and also enjoyed scouting and tennis. He was 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, with brown hair, a fair complexion and hazel eyes.

Having served briefly in the Militia's 36th Battalion, on 27 May 1940 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he described himself as a salesman, probably to avoid reserved-occupation status. From the outset, he showed initiative, beginning in the 2nd/13th Battalion as No.15 Platoon runner and soon advancing to company runner. Reaching the Middle East in November 1940, the battalion helped to garrison Tobruk, Libya, from April to December 1941. Chowne transferred to the carrier platoon and in September 1942 was promoted substantive sergeant. His actions in battle were always conspicuous. On 24 October at El Alamein, Egypt, he was wounded and admitted to hospital.

Returning to Australia in January 1943, the 2nd/13th moved to Papua in July. By then Chowne was mortar-platoon sergeant. Near Finschhafen, New Guinea, in the last days of September, he twice crawled forward to direct mortar-fire on enemy positions; for his deeds he was awarded the Military Medal. A comrade wrote of his 'exceptional coolness and great courage', and of his reluctance to boast; another recalled that 'he never showed fear'. Next month Chowne was sent to Australia for officer-training. His family fondly remembered his arriving home in uniform to be godfather to his niece.

In January 1944 Chowne was appointed lieutenant. On 15 March that year at St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, he married a corporal in the Australian Women's Army Service, Daphne May Barton, with whom he had worked at David Jones. After training in jungle warfare at Canungra, Queensland, he had the wrenching experience of being posted to a new unit: he joined the 2nd/2nd Battalion in October, two months before its departure for New Guinea.

On 25 March 1945 in the hills south-west of Dagua, Chowne rushed a Japanese-held knoll, later to bear his name. Ascending a steep, narrow track, he hurled grenades and silenced two machine-guns. Although mortally wounded, he reached the enemy's fox-holes and killed two more soldiers before he died. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Daphne heard of his death on 29 March, her birthday. In 1946 she received his decorations from the governor-general, the Duke of Gloucester, and subsequently presented them to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Chowne was buried in Lae war cemetery. The Lieutenant Albert Chowne, V.C., M.M., Memorial Hall at Willoughby commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. J. Marshall (ed), Nulli Secundus Log (Syd, 1946)
  • G. H. Fearnside (ed), Bayonets Abroad (Syd, 1953)
  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (Canb, 1961)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • G. H. Fearnside, Half to Remember (Syd, 1975)
  • S. Wick, Purple Over Green (Syd, 1977)
  • M. Barter, The 2/2 Australian Infantry Battalion: The History of a Group Experience (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1990)
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Barter, 'Chowne, Albert Edward (1920–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chowne-albert-edward-9743/text17209, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Albert Edward Chowne (1920-1945), by unknown photographer, c1944

Albert Edward Chowne (1920-1945), by unknown photographer, c1944

Australian War Memorial, 134484