Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Spowers, Allan (1892–1968)

by Harry Taplin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Allan Spowers (1892-1968), by unknown photographer, 1941

Allan Spowers (1892-1968), by unknown photographer, 1941

Australian War Memorial, 021014

Allan Spowers (1892-1968), army officer and company director, was born on 9 July 1892 at South Yarra, Melbourne, only son and third of six children of William George Lucas Spowers, a journalist from New Zealand, and his London-born wife Annie Christina, née Westgarth. Ethel Spowers was his elder sister. Allan attended Miss Turner's school and boarded (from 1905) at Geelong Church of England Grammar School. Nicknamed 'Jiggie', he became a prefect and captain of boats. He entered the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1920) in 1912, but interrupted his studies to travel to England where he enlisted in the British Army and was commissioned in the East Lancashire Regiment on 4 May 1915.

Attached to the regiment's 6th Battalion, Spowers fought at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, in August and in Mesopotamia in the following year. He won the Military Cross (1916) for leading his men in a night-attack during which he was twice wounded. In addition, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1916) and was mentioned in dispatches. He was promoted lieutenant in April 1917 and demobilized from the army in July 1919. Returning to Melbourne, he worked as a journalist on the Argus and Australasian. At the 1930 Imperial Press Conference in London he represented these newspapers; within a few years he was a director of the company that ran them. On 29 April 1922 at St Marks Church of England, Darling Point, Sydney, he had married Rosamond Sandys Lumsdaine, a niece of A. B. ('Banjo') Paterson.

In 1928-33 Spowers served in the Militia. He was mobilized as a captain in the 46th Battalion in September 1939 and promoted major in November. Transferring to the Australian Imperial Force in May 1940, he was promoted lieutenant colonel and appointed commander of the 2nd/24th Battalion in July. Six ft 1 in. (185 cm) tall and sparely built, with penetrating grey-blue eyes and a commanding voice, he maintained high standards of conduct, insisted on mental and physical toughness, and disdained pretentiousness.

The 2nd/24th arrived in the Middle East in December 1940, withdrew to Tobruk, Libya, in April 1941 and was besieged there until October. In January 1942 the battalion was sent to Syria for intensive training. Spowers was twice mentioned in dispatches for his services. Ordered back to the Western Desert in June in response to the German advance into Egypt, he and his men played a leading role in the battle of Tel el Eisa. Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead described Spowers's leadership as 'outstandingly meritorious' and he was to be awarded a Bar (1945) to his D.S.O. On 12 July 1942 he became a prisoner of war when his jeep was inadvertently driven into enemy territory.

Freed in Germany in March 1945 and repatriated in August, Spowers was appointed temporary colonel and director of amenities, Army Headquarters, Melbourne. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 17 July 1946. Although he resigned from the board of the Argus and Australasian Ltd in 1949, he held a number of other directorships and chaired (1951-59) the Victorian division of the Australian Red Cross Society. In 1956 he was appointed C.M.G. and to the Swedish Royal Order of Vasa. He died on 4 May 1968 at Golden Ball, his property at Everton, and was buried in Wangaratta cemetery; his wife, and their daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. P. Serle (ed), The Second Twenty-Fourth Australian Infantry Battalion of the 9th Australian Division (Brisb, 1963)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • J. J. Corfield and M. Collins Persse (compilers), Geelong Grammarians, vol 1 (Geelong, Vic, 1996)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Nov 1930, 21 Oct 1949
  • L. J. Morshead papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Harry Taplin, 'Spowers, Allan (1892–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/spowers-allan-11747/text21005, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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