Private William James Cowan


William James (or Thomas William) Cowan was born on 18 June 1873 at Ballyaghlis, Drumbeg, County Down, the only child of Mary Anne Cowan. His father's name was not recorded.

On 16 February 1893 Cowan enlisted at Lisburn in the Royal Irish Rifles (No.3837). He served with the regiment in India from September 1894, and South Africa in the Boer War from October 1899, returning home on 11 September 1902. On 21 January 1903 he was demobilised and placed on the Army Reserve.

On 4 July 1903 Cowan married Jane Montgomery at St Anne's Church of Ireland Parish Church, Belfast. The couple had two children over the next eight years. At the time of the 1911 Census William and Jane were living as boarders at 13 Henry Street, he working as a carter and she as a thread twister in a mill.

Cowan enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Belfast on 8 September 1914 (No.1159 – later Corps of Hussars No.71257). He gave his age as 31, understating his true age by ten years. On 5 February 1915 he embarked for France with a reinforcement draft for A and C Squadrons – he was posted to the latter.

At some point during the next few years Cowan returned to the UK, perhaps ill or injured. On 18 September 1917 he married widow Mary (or Margaret) Jane Telfair (née Hough) at Christ Church, Belfast.

Soon after, Cowan returned to France, where he was posted to the 1st Regiment, North Irish Horse. He was allowed two weeks' leave home from 14 to 28 March 1918. In March 1918 the 1st Regiment was converted to a cyclist unit. It is not known whether Cowan remained with the regiment, but on 1 July 1918 he was returned to the UK. On 13 August he was awarded three days' confined to camp and lost a day's pay for being absent off pass.

In September 1918 Cowan was placed under arrest and tried for bigamy (see reports below). He was sentenced to three months imprisonment (53 days of which were later remitted). On his release from HM Prison in Belfast on 18 October he returned to duty with the regiment at Antrim. On 2 November he was awarded 7 days' confined to camp and lost three days' pay for being absent without leave.

Cowan was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve on 5 February 1919.

He died at his home, 158 Old Lodge Road, Broadbent Street, Belfast, on 1 October 1939, and was buried in the City Cemetery, Glenalina Extension.


Northern Whig, 31 August 1918


Northern Whig, 13 September 1918