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Herbert James Fowles (1889–1947)

by J. G. Williams

This article was published:

Herbert James Fowles (1889-1947), soldier and lighthouse-keeper, was born on 4 January 1889 at Albany, Western Australia, son of James Fowles, seaman, and his wife Sophia Elizabeth, née Simmons. Educated at the Christian Brothers' College, Albany, he left to join the Albany Pilot-Marine Ships Crew where he remained until 1910. He was next employed by the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service. His first appointed lighthouse was Cape Naturaliste and he was relieving at the Breaksea Light, Albany, when he enlisted as a private in the 11th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 17 February 1915.

Fowles embarked from Fremantle on 19 April in the troopship Argyllshire with the 4th Reinforcements for the 11th Battalion and joined his unit at Gallipoli on 4 June. Wounded in action late that month, he resumed duty in October and left Gallipoli for Lemnos on the night of 16-17 November. The battalion reached Egypt in January 1916 and Fowles was promoted lance corporal in March; by 5 April the battalion was in France. On 23 July he was wounded in action during the battle of Pozières. He returned to his unit in September and was promoted corporal in October. In January 1917 he was wounded a third time when a sector of the front trenches at Flers was struck by a shell. Rejoining the battalion in February, he was promoted sergeant in March and warrant officer (Class II) and company sergeant major in April.

'Chook' Fowles won the Military Medal on 15 April at Louverval for his courage and determination in holding a valuable picquet post on the right flank of the battalion until reinforcements were brought up to the line. One month later, during the 2nd battle of Bullecourt, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for organizing an immediate counter-attack in a trench which had fallen into enemy hands. His company quickly ousted the enemy, killing over thirty men. During the attack on Mont de Merris, near Strazeele, on the night of 2-3 June 1918, he captured a machine-gun post single handed and in the mopping-up phase which followed, brought in fifty prisoners. For this action he received a Bar to his D.C.M. Before returning to Australia he was promoted temporary warrant officer (Class I) and made regimental sergeant major.

Fowles returned to Australia in May 1919 and shortly before his discharge from the A.I.F. married Winifred Scott at St Alban's Anglican Church, Highgate, Perth, on 31 July. On returning to Western Australia he had resumed his job in the lighthouse service. He was head-keeper at Point Cloates, Cape Naturaliste (for twenty-one years), Cape Leeuwin and Point Moore, Geraldton. At Point Moore, on 12 January 1947, he was drowned while fishing alone from a small dinghy. His body was never found. He was survived by his wife, one son and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917 (Syd, 1933)
  • W. C. Belford, Legs-eleven: Being the Story of the 11th Battalion (A.I.F.) in the Great War of 1914-1918 (Perth, 1940)
  • London Gazette, 15 June, 14 Aug 1917, 30 Oct 1918
  • Geraldton Guardian and Express, 14 Jan 1947
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. G. Williams, 'Fowles, Herbert James (1889–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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