Passchendale: 100 years on

MENIN GATE: The memorial records the names of men buried in unmarked graves including Vincent John Dowd. Picture: Australian War Memorial.
MENIN GATE: The memorial records the names of men buried in unmarked graves including Vincent John Dowd. Picture: Australian War Memorial.

The unenvied task of conveying the news of Lance Corporal Vincent John Dowd’s death to his parents fell to Rev E H Walker, the Anglican clergyman in Rylstone.

Vincent John, known as ‘John’, the youngest son of Andrew and Catherine Dowd of Cudgegong, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces at Bathurst on February 21, 1916.

Born in Rylstone in 1896, John attended the District School in Mudgee. Prior to his enlistment John was employed for over two years as a labourer at the Portland Cement Works. By the time he joined the Army he was over six feet tall with blue eyes and brown hair.

Within three months of enlisting, and with minimal training, the 3rd Reinforcements of the 45th Battalion, including #1990 Private Vincent John Dowd, embarked at Sydney on board the Warialda.

Arriving in England the group was marched into the 12th Training Battalion’s grounds at Rollestone on the Salisbury Plains in Wiltshire. Private Dowd joined his battalion on the muddy battlefields of France in mid January 1917. Wounded in action on February 23, 1917 Private Dowd was evacuated to England for treatment to a gunshot wound to his left arm.

It was at this time that Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig was planning to launch a major offensive to drive the Germans from Ypres to the Belgian coast. Following the success at Messines in June, a further attack was unleashed on July 31, 1917. Appalling weather hampered the attack and despite crippling losses the fighting continued.

Private Dowd was discharged from hospital and rejoined the 45th on August 22 and was appointed Lance Corporal of B Company 5th Platoon on September 25, 1917.

The successful attack on Broodseinde Ridge on October 4 by 12 allied divisions including the three Australian divisions was a vital, yet costly, victory. The Australians suffered 6,500 casualties. Five days later the 2nd Australian Division, hampered by the continued muddy conditions from the continual rain, suffered heavily in the attack against the German held village of Passchendaele.

A second attack on the village was planned for the morning of October 12, 1917. A and B Companies of the 45th Battalion were holding the line in the front trenches of their sector. It was in one of these dug-outs that Lance Corporal Dowd and three mates were to spend the night of October 11 waiting to ‘go over’ at 5.30am, following the planned artillery barrage at 5.25 am. 

Albert Hazelwood enlisted in Bathurst on the same day as John Dowd, as did Matthew Ryan, one of the three in the dug-out.

Private Matthew Jeremiah Ryan stated in an interview in February 1918 that they were all dozing and he was leaning his head on Lance Corporal Dowd’s shoulder when an enemy shell exploded in the dug-out at about 4am, blowing off his own left arm and killing Dowd instantly. 

Pulled out of the dug-out by the other two occupants, Privates James Howard and Albert Moroney, Private Matthew Ryan was evacuated behind the line and eventually to Reading Military Hospital in England.

Lance Corporal Vincent John Dowd was buried where he was killed. 

MUD: The conditions at Passchendaele in 1917. Picture: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL.

MUD: The conditions at Passchendaele in 1917. Picture: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL.