The Airmen's Stories - P/O J H Rowden
John Hampton Rowden was born in late 1913 in Henley, the son of John Douglas Rowden (1882-1929) and
Margery Catherine Rowden (nee Hampton 1882-1929).
His father was a farmer in Benson, Oxfordshire but became ill and was bedridden, cared for by his wife and a hired nurse.
In the early hours of 5th June 1929 his wife left the house and drowned herself in the nearby Thames. Her husband passed away ten days later.
JH Rowden was employed as a sales engineer with British Thomson-Houston (BTH) an engineering and heavy industrial company, based at Rugby, Warwickshire.
He joined the RAFVR in May 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot.
Called up on 1st September, Rowden completed his training, was commissioned and went to 7 OTU Hawarden in August 1940. After converting to Spitfires, he joined 616 Squadron at Kenley on 2nd September and moved to 64 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 13th October.
At some time towards the end of the year he married Catherine Mabel Finch (1915-2008) in Rugby.
Above: In training as a Sergeant and before gaining his wings.
Above: Rowden is standing third from left. The location has been identified as the Officers Mess, Old Sarum, Wiltshire. The officer standing second from left is Bastian Maitland-Thompson and it is known that he was serving here in August 1940 with No.1 Army Co-Operation Squadron before he volunteered for Fighter Command. It seems certain that Rowden was first posted here before also going to Hawarden to train on Spitfires.
Above: John Rowden in a Spitfire. The Commonwealth countries paid for a large number of aircraft which were then adorned with the names of places in the presenting countries. The Nizam of Hyderabad paid for fifteen aircraft and this may have been one of them, the name possibly mis-spelled as the town has always been known as Aurangabad.
Rowden was killed on 9th April 1941 in Spitfire IIA P7784 which was shot down by Me109s whilst on a Rhubarb. As evidenced by the letters below it was not immediately apparent that he had been killed on this day.
January 2021 - additional photos at bottom.
His younger brother, Sgt. George Douglas Rowden, was killed on 21st October 1944 aged 25 whilst flying in Wellington X LP565 'A' of 104 Squadron which failed to return from a raid from Foggia in Italy on the marshalling yards at Maribor (now in Slovenia).
Also lost were:
Sgt. WD Spencer
Sgt. RL Bell
Sgt. JA Asquith
Sgt. WH Stephenson
All lie in Belgrade War Cemetery.
No. 64 Squadron,
Royal Air Force Station,
10th April, 1941.
Dear Mrs Rowden,
No doubt by this time you will have heard of the bad news
about John. The whole Squadron join me in expressing our real
sympathy with you and telling you of our confidence that he will
be heard of soon as a prisoner of war.
I have not known him long, only three weeks, but already
look upon him as a good friend and a really sound and reliable
Officer. He was recommended to be a Flight Lieutenant only two
The circumstances were as follows:- We took off
together from here in the morning and set course for France to
see if we could find some German aircraft among the clouds.
When near Dunkirk over the sea we sighted some Messerschmitt
109s, John and I attacked and got separated. I called him up
on the radio and he replied that he was O.K., flying in cloud and
had shot one German down (this has been credited to John).
I then replied that this was good fun and he replied “Yes, wizard”.
He then reported himself to be three miles inland.
I ordered him to fly out over the sea again in cloud. He
acknowledged this order. Some ten minutes later I could get no
reply from him, and naturally I had a bad journey home without
him, not being able to do anything about it.
On my return, efforts of all kind were made to locate him
and eventually a German wireless message was intercepted saying
that a Spitfire had been brought down over Mardyck aerodrome.
As this was the only aircraft missing, it is reasonable to suppose
that John came down nearby.
My own theory is that, knowing John to be somewhat
regardless of danger, he went down from the clouds to machine gun
the aerodrome and was caught by the ground defences. A Spitfire
is well armoured round the pilot so the chances are well in his
favour that he was forced to crash land owing to the engine being
shot. There have been many cases of this in the blitz before.
The Squadron has lost in John the services of a really
fine Officer, a good pilot and a fellow who always cheered others –
even at the worst of moments. We are waiting anxiously with you
to hear of his safe landing.
Some of these operational details are naturally somewhat
If there is anything further you wish to know, please
write or ‘phone me here and, as I live near Rugby, I will try to
call and see you personally within the next two weeks.
No. 64 Squadron
Royal Air Force Station
It is my painful duty to confirm what you must have heard already from the Air Ministry that John has been reported missing. He went out on an operational trip at 1030 this morning, and was last seen by the C.O., Squadron leader Heath, heading for cloud after an engagement with a 109. From the details I have collected it would seem that this action took place very close to the coast or actually over the land and, although no reason is known for John’s failure to return, it is believed by all of us that he is perfectly safe, but unfortunately the wrong side of the “ditch”. It is also probable that, although winged, he put down a 109, which has been claimed as a “probable” on his behalf. We sincerely hope that you will hear of his having been made a prisoner of war in the near future and, as you as the next of kin, would be given such information before us, we hope you will let us know immediately.
With regard to John’s kit and personal effects, these I am rounding up and, as you may perhaps be aware, they are forwarded to you via a Unit known as the Central Depository and I regret that I am unable to send them direct to you. One thing upon which I would like your immediate advice is the disposal of John’s car – the Singer. In the case of this vehicle there would appear to be but two alternatives; one to effect its collection yourself, or to permit me, if I am able, to dispose of it locally. Should you decide on the latter course, will you please let me know, and let me know also what you think is a fair price for it.
Flying Officer, Adjutant,
No. 64 Squadron, R.A.F.
Mrs. J.H. Rowden
17, Vernon Avenue, Rugby
Above: Luftwaffe personnel of JG51 examine Rowden's Spitfire which came down on their own airfield, Mardyck near Dunkirk. On the right in the lower photo is
Hauptmann Josef Fözö, who almost certainly shot Rowden down.
He is buried in Dunkirk Town Cemetery, France.
Above images and additional research courtesy of the Rowden family.
January 2021 - the images of Rowden's wrecked Spitfire below were kindly sent by Olaf Timmermann, a researcher in Germany.