COWAN, David Meikle
(Service number 50468)

First Rank Gunner Last Rank Gunner


Date 22 September 1877 Place of Birth Timaru

Enlistment Information

Date 23 February 1917 Age 39 years 5 months
Address at Enlistment Le Crens Terrace, Timaru
Occupation Gent's Outfitter
Previous Military Experience Volunteers 15 years
Marital Status Single, then married
Next of Kin Mrs D. M. COWAN (wife), 9 Durham Street, Mornington, Dunedin
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information Height 5 feet 8¼ inches. Weight 154 lbs. Chest measurement 35-37¼ inches. Complexion dark. Eyes grey. Hair grey. Sight - right eye 6/6, left eye 6/9. Hearing & colour vision both normal. Limbs well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart & lungs normal. Had had illnesses. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccination mark (left arm). Good bodily & mental health. No slight defects. No fits. Inflammation of lungs 27 years ago. Undescended testicle on both sides. Scar on right side of neck from old suppurating gland. Class A.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation
Unit, Squadron, or Ship
Embarked From Destination
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With 29th NZ Field Artillery

Military Awards

Service Medals
Military Awards

Award Circumstances and Date

No information

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date


Date 7 August 1919 Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Post-war Occupations

Draper; salesman


Date 5 May 1967 Age 89 years
Place of Death
Memorial or Cemetery
Memorial Reference
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

David Meikle Cowan, born on 22 September 1877 at Timaru, was the only child of John Gray and Jane Reed (née Anderson) Cowan. John and Jane, both from Scotland, had married the previous year at Oamaru. David was educated at Timaru Boys' High School. Like his parents, he was associated with Trinity Presbyterian Church. In 1892 David was responsible for rescuing a boy who was close to drowning in the old saltwater baths on the north mole – “Young Cowan’s cool, smart and plucky rescue undoubtedly saved the boy’s life.” His father, John, died in 1912, and his mother in 1918, naming her son David as her sole trustee and beneficiary. David was a collector, collecting all sorts of curios from boyhood – Fijian, Maori, Samoan, Australian, Chinese. In January 1914 he kindly lent his collection for a display in the Timaru Sacred Heart Convent hall.

David Meikle Cowan was drawn in the ballot and called up in February 1917. He had a shop to dispose of and, having called for tenders for the sale of it, he was given until 30 April. At attestation David was single, Presbyterian, and a self-employed gent’s outfitter. He was 5 feet 8¼ inches tall, weighed 154 pounds, and had a chest measurement of 35-37¼ inches. In other respects he was in good condition and, although it was noted that he had suffered from inflammation of the lungs 27 years ago and he had a scar on the right side of the neck from an old suppurating gland, he was classed A. David married Elsie Barbara Shand at Dunedin on 16 April 1917, just before his departure for camp. John Cowan was in the drapery trade in Timaru, initially in partnership with Hubbard and later on his own account. On his death the business was taken over by his son David, who had worked with his father in the drapery business for some years. David was farewelled by the South Canterbury Motor Club on 30 April in Hutchison’s Tea Rooms before his departure for Camp with the South Canterbury quota of the 29th Reinforcements. He had already given 15 years service with the volunteers. Now he was to be a gunner with the 29th New Zealand Field Artillery.

But in May 1917 David was discharged from Featherston military camp, unable to cope with the training required. The findings of the Medical Board assembled at Featherston Military Camp on 6 May were not good – Gunner Cowan had had chest trouble 27 years ago following pneumonia; he also had pain on walking and had had pleurisy. No progress was evident, and his disability was likely to be permanent. Thus he was not fit for Active Service, but fit for civil employment. “Disease: Tubercular” read the Medical Case-sheet. “Was treated in Timaru by Dr …… about 7 years ago for chest trouble & he told him then he had a cavity in the lung. Never had acute pleuritis. Had suppurating glands of neck about 10 years ago. Now complains of pain on Right side of chest but no cough & no sputum. No physical signs of tuberculosis at present. Appetite good. Sleeps well. No night sweats. No noticeable loss of weight. One uncle & one aunt died of phthisis.” He went to Dunedin for medical treatment. He was finally discharged from service on 7 August 1919.

Afterwards David and Elsie settled at Fairlie where they became involved in the community - church, swimming, and notably for David, with the scouts. At the November 1920 camp for the Fairlie troop of the Boy Scouts, D. Cowan was one of those “indefatigable in their supervision” who “did much to make the camp the undoubted success it was.” As well Mr D. Cowan had promised to take the position of scout master. Sometime in the 1920s they moved to Christchurch. Lynn Williams of Christchurch recalled that her father was in his scout group at Fairlie and kept in touch with him thereafter. Dave and Elsie had no children and Lynn's father helped to clear out their home in Christchurch. Dave died in 1967 and Elsie in 1968. Currently in Lynn’s possession is a photo of baby David Meikle Cowan with his mother.

Two uncles of David - David Cowan and Alexander Cowan - were shipmasters. David (born in 1841 at Peterhead, Aberdeen, Scotland) married in 1879 at Peterhead (as notified in the Timaru Herald), while Alexander (born 1848 at Peterhead) is buried with John and Jane at Timaru, having died in 1874, aged just 25 years. It appears that David senior was also in these parts as Captain Cowan was mentioned in John Gray Cowan's obituary – he had owned property in Timaru when he traded between New Zealand and London; in December 1881 he was master of the clipper ship Wellington sailing from New Zealand for London (Timaru Herald, 29 December 1881), and there was a Shaw Savill line postcard among the younger David's effects. The Timaru Herald of 29 March 1883 carried death notices for the paternal grandmother (Ann Cowan née Geary at Peterhead) and the maternal grandfather (John Anderson at Victoria) of David Meikle Cowan. David Cowan senior (shipmaster) had four children born at Peterhead in the 1880s.

David Meikle Cowan died on 5 May 1967 and his wife Elsie early in 1968.


NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5530 0029120) [19 February 2019]; Timaru Herald, 25 September 1874, 18 October 1876, 6 & 29 January 1879, 12 August 1880, 29 December 1881, 29 March 1883, 8 March 1892, 26 [x 2] & 29 February 1912, 29 January 1914, 16 March 1917, 19, 28 & 30 April 1917, 23 May 1917, 16 & 17 August 1918, 15 May 1919, 6 November 1920, Ashburton Guardian, 26 February 1912 (Papers Past) [16 & 17 February 2019]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [16 February 2019]

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

Currently Assigned to


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