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William Bruce Bowring (1916–1987)

by Alan Warren

This article was published:

William Bruce Bowring (1916-1987), army officer and businessman, was born on 6 September 1916 at Mildura, Victoria, second child of Australian-born parents William James Bowring, merchant, and his wife Renee Elsie, née King. Educated, to matriculation, at Mildura High School and Wesley College, Melbourne, young William entered the family business, William Bowring & Co. Pty Ltd, general merchants of Mildura, and of Wentworth, New South Wales. Commissioned as a lieutenant in the Militia in October 1937, he was promoted to captain in February 1940. At St John’s Church of England, East Malvern, Melbourne, on 3 April that year he married Beryl Annetta Hill, a hairdresser.

On 4 July 1940 Bowring transferred to the Australian Imperial Force. Six ft 2½ ins (189 cm) tall, with a fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair, he was posted to the 2/29th Battalion and made officer commanding `C’ Company. Arriving in Singapore in August 1941, the battalion trained and prepared defensive positions in the southern Malayan state of Johore. By mid-January 1942 the invading Japanese force had reached the northern border of Johore.

From 17 January the 2/29th Battalion was involved in bitter fighting between Bakri and Parit Sulong, south of the Muar River. The only company commander in the unit to survive the action, Bowring was awarded the Military Cross. The citation stated: `at Bakri on 20 January 1942 after heavy artillery fire had caused the evacuation of part of our front, Captain Bowring immediately re-organised his Company and personally led a bayonet charge which captured the former position killing many Japanese’. Over the next two days he led further bayonet charges, and at one stage advanced under fire to engage enemy tanks with an anti-tank rifle. His `personal leadership and courage greatly inspired all troops’. The Japanese commander Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita later described the fighting between Bakri and Parit Sulong as the most `savage encounter’ of the campaign.

On Singapore Island the 2/29th Battalion was reinforced by five hundred under-trained recruits. When the Japanese landed on the evening of 8 February, the battalion was in a reserve position. But by 10 February it was in the front line around Bukit Panjang village and that night it was broken up by a Japanese tank attack. On the following day Bowring was evacuated to hospital after being wounded by a bullet to the back of the neck while attempting to hunt down a sniper. After the capitulation of Singapore on the 15th, he was interned in Changi camp. In April 1943 he left Singapore as part of `F’ Force to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway. He was mentioned in despatches for his services while a prisoner of war. Returning to Australia in October 1945, he was placed on the Reserve of Officers on 24 November.

After the war he was general manager of Bowrings until 1969. He was strongly committed to Mildura and was active in a range of community organisations. Moving to Melbourne he became secretary of the Canners’ Association of Australia and later worked for an import-export company. A keen golfer and billiards and snooker player, he also enjoyed boating and ballroom dancing. He died on 4 October 1987 at Doncaster, Melbourne, and was cremated. His wife and their daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust (1957)
  • R. W. and R. Christie (eds), A History of the 2/29 Battalion—8th Division AIF (1983)
  • A. B. Lodge, The Fall of General Gordon Bennett (1986)
  • A. Warren, Singapore 1942 (2002)
  • J. Lack (ed), No Lost Battalion (2005)
  • Stand-To (Canberra), May-June 1954, pp 1, 42
  • series B883, item VX44362 (National Archives of Australia)
  • personal information.

Citation details

Alan Warren, 'Bowring, William Bruce (1916–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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