b. 06/11/1914 Lewisham. d. 13/01/1942 Malta.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 11/02/1940 Immingham, Lincs.
John Noel Dowland (1914-1942) was born on 6th November 1914 in Lewisham, London, the son of Reverend Frank Michael and Irene Dowland (nee Pilgram). His father was a Temporary Chaplain to the Armed Forces in World War I, and was awarded the Military Cross in 1917. John was one of three children, with a sister and a brother named Patrick. John was educated at St John’s School, Leatherhead, Surrey, before he moved on to RAF College, Cranwell in 1934. On passing out in 1935 he was gazetted as a Pilot Officer and posted to 101 Squadron of Bomber Command. In 1938-39 he specialised in armaments and became an instructor. His first posts were in the Bomb Disposal Wing of the RAF.
In June 1939 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant just prior to the outbreak of World War II. On 11th February 1940 in Immingham, Lincolnshire, the SS Kildare had been hit by two bombs off the coast. One exploded in the grain cargo, which shifted, causing the ship to list heavily; the other lodged in the after deck cabin but did not explode. The ship had then limped into dock at Immingham. Dowland, with Armament Instructor Leonard Harrison, fitted a voltmeter to drain the electric charge. The locking rings were removed, and the defused bomb was lowered into a truck for further examination. This was done to all defused bombs in order to keep up with new developments.
On 7th January 1941, the London Gazette announced the award of George Crosses to both John Dowland and Leonard Harrison. They were the first such rewarded actions with GCs but not the first gazetted GCs. Following his action, he returned to active duty, and was promoted to Squadron Leader and posted to Malta.
On 13th January 1942 he was piloting a Martin Maryland bomber of 69 Squadron, he took off from Luqa airfield on Malta for a maritime armed recce flight to Pantellaria – Cape Bon – Kerkennah Island, looking for an Axis shipping convoy. He sighted and photographed six merchant vessels escorted by three destroyers then set course for Malta. On his return he noticed the Luftwaffe had scrambled and were heading for Malta, his gunner shot down one Messerschmidt but refused to bale out. Dowland ordered Pilot Officer Arnold Potter to bale out with the photographs taken during reconnaissance. He survived but Dowland, now out of fuel, crashed into the sea off Cambridge Battery, Silema, and was killed along with his Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, Pilot Officer Robert Gridley. He was buried in Capuccini Naval Cemetery, Malta.
His GC, 1939-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, France & Germany Star and War Medal 1939-45 are held by the RAF Museum, Hendon.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: RAF MUSEUM, HENDON, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: CAPUCCINI NAVAL CEMETERY, KALKARA, MALTA.
PLOT E COLLECTIVE GRAVE 14
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier