To commemorate 100 years since the Armistice, we would like to introduce you to 100 members of Caulfield RSL over the next 100 days
Brigadier James Frederic Bowtell-Harris OBE, MC, MiD
Born in Prahran, the first document that mentions Bowtell-Harris, tells of his occupation as a Clerk in St. Kilda. He had also served for two years in the senior cadets and he was serving in the 58 Infantry Regiment in 1913. He held the rank of Lieutenant while he was in the Militia.
He enlisted on 15 August 1914 with the 7 Battalion at Moonee Ponds in Victoria, and was assigned to D Company as Private 467 (It would seem a few officers in the Militia gave up their rank to join the A.I.F.) The 7 Battalion was one of the first infantry units raised for the AIF and formed part of 2 Brigade. It was raised by Lieutenant-Colonel H. E. “Pompey” Elliott.
The 7 Battalion embarked on 19th October 1914 on HMAT Honorata A20. They embarked per Galeka from Alexandria with the M.E.F. on 5 April 1915. The battalion was involved with the second wave of attack at Gallipoli on the 25. Ten days after landing the 2 Brigade was transferred to Cape Helles to help in the attack on Krithia. The Brigade lost a third of its strength for hardly any ground captured. They returned to ANZAC. James was promoted to Lance Corporal on 15th May 1915, then to Corporal on 18 May 1915 and to Sergeant on 19 June 1915. He was admitted to 1st Australian Stationary Hospital at Lemnos on 17 July 1915 with a slight debility from Gallipoli, and was transferred to Alexandria on the H.S. Soudan on the 19, arriving at the No. 17 General Hospital on the 22. He was discharged from there for duty on the 28 and rejoined the Battalion on the 2 August. The 2 Brigade fought at the battle of Lone Pine. He was commissioned as 2 Lieutenant on 28 Sep 1915. They were evacuated in December and he took a leading part in the evacuation of the battalion from Gallipoli. He was one of the last to leave the trenches in his area and helped set up the automatic rifle firing devices to help hide the evacuation (invented by Bill Scurry).
The Battalion left Lemnos to Alexandria on 7 January 1916 and from there to Marseilles on 21 March to join the B.E.F. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 12 March 1916. He received a Mention in Despatches on 31 March 1916 for participation in a very successful raid on the enemy trenches on 30 September 1916. He was promoted to Captain on 1st August 1916 and was marched in to 6 Training Battalion at Rollestone on 9 August 1916. On 25 October 1916, he was recommended the Military Cross and it was awarded 20 January 1917. The award was for Pozieres operations on 15 to 24 August 1916 for conspicuous gallantry in action. This was the Battalion’s first major action in France. He led a raiding party under very heavy fire displaying great courage and determination. His leadership was largely responsible for the success of his party. It was also written “Captain Harris commanded a successful Raiding Party, which he had personally trained, on the German Trenches near Hollmbeke on the night of 30 September/1 October. He took his post on the enemy parapet which was under shell fire and controlled his party with coolness and determination. This officer’s party killed thirteen Germans and bombed several dugouts. His leadership was to a great extent responsible for the success of his party.”
On 2 July 1918, his appointment with the A.I.F. was terminated having been appointed to a commission in the Indian Army. He also had a rank reduction to Lieutenant. He served in the Indian Army in the 3 Battalion, 2nd Punjab Regiment, from 29 July 1918 and returned to Australia for visits. He was promoted to Captain on 28 June 1920. On the way back to India one time he met his future wife, Joan Pringle Finlay, on the ship they were both on.
He retired from the Indian Army on 1 April 1933 and moved back to Victoria - where he is listed on the Caulfield membership roll in 1937 - however he was recalled to the Indian Army in 1939. During World War 2 he raised and commanded the Indian General Service Corps Depot. His wife, Joan, formed and ran an Officer’s Mess Catering School for domestic men-servants. In 1946, he received an O.B.E. as Major (temporary lieutenant-Colonel) James Frederic Bowtell-Harris, Indian Army. His wife was also awarded an O.B.E. as Junior Commander (temporary) Jean Pringle Bowtell-Harris (W.A.C.135) Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India).
Returning to Victoria and purchasing land on the Mornington Peninsula, he spent his post war years as a farmer, before passing away on 23 August 1964