Albert (Bert) Chowne

Full name:
Albert Edward Chowne, VC, MM
Born:

Sydney
NSW
Australia
Died:

Dagua
Papua New Guinea
Occupation:
Shirt-cutter (shirt-making tailor), Salesman
Education:
Chatswood Boys' Intermediate High, Naremburn Junior Technical
Fate:

Killed in action

Highest rank:
Lieutenant
Enlistment:
27 May 1940 Paddington, New South Wales, Australia
Decorations/ commendations:
Victoria Cross (VC), Military Medal (MM)
Service:
Australian Imperial Force
Service Number:
NX24405
Conflict:
World War II 1939-1945
Military event:
Battle of El Alamein, New Guinea campaign 1942-1945, Siege of Tobruk 1941, Syrian Campaign
Unit:
2/2nd Infantry Battalion, 2nd AIF, 2/13 Australian Infantry Battalion, 36th Militia Battalion

 

Members of the 2/2 field regiment firing at Japanese at Dagua, New Guinea. This is the area in which Albert Chowne won his Victoria Cross for bravery. AWM 079925.

A few short months before the war ended, Albert 'Bert' Chowne was killed in a final act of bravery. His actions did not surprise those who served with him. Chowne was known for his particularly selfless, sometimes reckless, courage. In March 1945, Chowne was killed while charging a Japanese-held position. His actions led to the 6th Division's successful recapture of Wewak, in one of the war's final campaigns. Chowne was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross (VC).

Early life

Chowne was born in Sydney's northern suburbs. His father, Arthur, was a shopkeeper from Balmain. His mother, Ellen, died while Chowne was in the army. There were 7 children in the family.

He went to Chatswood Boys Intermediate High School and Naremburn Junior Technical School. Chowne was a keen sportsman, enjoying rugby union and tennis. He left school at 15.

In 1935, Chowne started working as a shirt-cutter at the David Jones factory in Surry Hills.

Falling in love

Chowne met his future wife, Daphne Barton, while working at David Jones. Daphne worked in the store's finance department. The couple spent time together, going for walks and spending time with friends. They agreed to write to each other when Chowne enlisted in 1940. In an interview after Chowne's death, Daphne recalled how those letters cemented the young couple's love. They married on 15 March 1944 at St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, while Chowne was on leave.

Army life

Chowne was determined to 'do his bit' when war broke out in 1939. He spent a short time in the 36th Militia Battalion before joining the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in May 1940. Chowne was so intent on joining up that he lied about his age, claiming to be 2 years older.

His enlistment papers record his job as being a salesman. This may have been another tweak of the truth, to avoid his application being rejected on the basis that shirt-cutters were a reserved occupation. This meant they were needed at home in Australia during the war.

Chowne's North African campaigns

After 2 months basic army training at Bathurst, New South Wales, Chowne was sent to the Middle East with the 2/13th Infantry Battalion. He arrived in Egypt in November 1940.

Some of the war's most heavy fighting occurred in the Middle East and North Africa. Chowne gained a reputation for bravery at:

Chowne was wounded at El Alamein and kept in hospital for 3 weeks.

Chowne in New Guinea

In January 1943, Chowne's battalion was recalled to Australia.

After training in Queensland's Atherton Tablelands, he embarked for Milne Bay (in present-day south-eastern Papua New Guinea).

The New Guinea campaigns involved thousands of Allied troops. These included 5 Australian army and militia divisions and air and naval support.

Many significant battles took place in New Guinea between 1943 and 1944. These helped pave the way for the successful advance by Allied troops through Asia and the Pacific. Chowne saw action at:

  • Finschhafen
  • Lae-Salamaua
  • Sattelberg.

Chowne was increasingly recognised as a fearless and skilful leader.

In September 1943, Chowne received a Military Medal for bravery after his actions led to the rescue of 8 wounded Australian soldiers. Now a Platoon Sergeant, and seeing his unit suffering heavy casualties, Chowne was close enough to the enemy to get covered with earth from exploding mortar shells. He destroyed the Japanese post and was nominated for officer training.

Chowne was commissioned as a lieutenant in January 1944. He married Daphne, now a corporal in the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS), in March. He was sent for more training in jungle fighting at Canungra in South-East Queensland.

Chowne joined the 2/2 Battalion and returned to northern New Guinea in December for the Aitape-Wewak campaign.

This campaign was one of the final ones fought by Australian troops. Its main goal was to defend the recently-recaptured base at Aitape, to allow its use by American troops advancing on the Philippines. But, commanders of the 6th Division decided to push east towards Wewak. They aimed to clear the Japanese 18th Army from the New Guinea mainland.

Australians faced between 24,000 and 30,000 Japanese from 3 divisions. Both sides suffered lots of casualties, with the Japanese toll in the thousands.

On 25 March 1945, Chowne was killed in action, during one final act of bravery for his men. His citation records how Chowne rushed the Japanese position, not waiting for orders. He charged the enemy, throwing grenades and firing his machine gun. Chowne was shot twice in the chest but kept going for almost 50m, destroying 2 enemy machine guns. He was killed when shot standing over a Japanese foxhole.

Daphne heard of his death on her birthday, 4 days later. She accepted her husband's posthumously awarded Victoria Cross in 1946.

Commemorating Albert Chowne

Chowne was buried in Lae. A community hall in Willoughby Sydney was named in his honour and a street in Canberra.

In April 2019, Daphne's death made worldwide news. The war widow, who remarried after Chowne's death, had become well-known on social media after forming a special friendship with Prince Harry and his wife, Megan. Daphne met Prince Harry on 3 occasions. The first time was in 2015 when the Prince noticed Daphne wearing Chowne's VC medal.

Sources

  • 1945 'Government Gazette Notices', Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (National: 1901-1973), 13 September, p 1979, viewed 5 March 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232764757
  • ABC News, Prince Harry's 'biggest fan', Daphne Dunne, dies aged 99 of pneumonia, met Duke of Sussex three times, 2 Apr 2019 at 3:33 pm, viewed 5 March 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-02/prince-harry-fan-daphne-dunne-dies-aged-99/10964116
  • Australian War Memorial (undated), Lieutenant Albert Chowne, viewed 5 March 2020, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10676558
  • BBC News, Daphne Dunne: Australian Prince Harry superfan dies at 99, 2 April 2019, viewed 5 March 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-47782474
  • Barter, Margaret (1993), 'Chowne, Albert Edward (1920–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, viewed online 5 March 2020, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chowne-albert-edward-9743/text17209
  • Best, Brian. The Forgotten VCs: The Victoria Crosses of the War in the Far East During Ww2, 2018. Print. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/990857438
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission (undated), LIEUTENANT ALBERT CHOWNE, viewed 10 February 2020, https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/2167284/albert-chowne/
  • FamilySearch.org (undated), Frances Ellen Dalziell, viewed 10 March 2020, https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/M3M7-RV9/frances-ellen-dalziell-1886-1943
  • Hunter, Claire (2019), 'You survive; you've got no choice', Memorial Articles Blog, Australian War Memorial, viewed 4 March 2020, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/daphne-dunne-and-albert-chowne-vc
  • James, Karl (2013). Remembering the war in New Guinea, Memorial Articles Blog, Australian War Memorial, viewed 4 March 2020, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/remembering-war-new-guinea
  • Long, Gavin. Second World War Official Histories - Volume VII – The Final Campaigns (1st edition, 1963), Chapter 13 – To Dagua: and Across the Amuk River. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1417187
  • National Archives of Australia: CA 46, Department of Defence [III], Central Office; CA 1999, Soldier Career Management Agency; Second Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1939-1947; NX24405, CHOWNE ALBERT: Service Number - NX24405: Date of birth - 19 Jul 1920: Place of birth - SYDNEY NSW: Place of enlistment - PADDINGTON NSW: Next of Kin - CHOWNE ARTHUR, 1939 - 1948.
  • Wikipedia contributors, 'Aitape–Wewak campaign', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 November 2021, 23:33 UTC, viewed 5 March 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Aitape%E2%80%93Wewak_campaign&oldid=1053107580

Last updated: 18 November 2022

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2022), Albert Edward Chowne, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 29 January 2023, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/biographies/albert-edward-chowne
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