Corporal William George Lowther: ‘the least visited Kiwi on the peninsula’
Bill and Serpil Sellars are old friends who live in Eceabat (formerly known as Maidos)– the small village and ferry terminal on the Gallipoli Peninsula across the Straits from the provincial capital of Canakkale in Turkey. Eceabat has been my home base for visits to the Peninsula since my first trip in December 1980. Bill is a freelance journalist and his wife Serpil is a television news producer. I met Bill at a conference at the Australian War Memorial in the 1980s when he was giving a paperon Australian prisoners of war under the Ottomans. His research took him to Turkey and, trips aside, he never came back. He met Serpil, worked as a journalist, settled in Eceabat and together, when not feeding their large family of former stray dogs and cats, walk the peninsula. Few know the battlefields better and I link up with them on every visit.
Bill emailed me recently.
‘We had another ramble on Monday, walking down from Chunuk Bair to The Farm and then around the head of Sazli Beit Dere to Battleship Hill and then down to Baby 700 before hiking back up to Chunuk Bair. Just for nostalgia, I have attached a photo of the headstone of Corporal W Lowther, of Auckland Bn. Being commemorated at The Farm Cemetery, the most difficult of plots to access, he is probably the least visited Kiwi on the peninsula, so we thought he deserved a mention.’
George Lowther, as he was known to his family, was the youngest son of Mr and Mrs Edward and Jane Lowther. He was born at Kihikihi in 1887 where his father served in the Armed Constabulary. When war broke out in 1914 George was a married man working as a painter in Taihape but with a home address in Auckland. In 1915 he enlisted in the Auckland Infantry Battalion and sailed with the Fourth Reinforcements. One ahead of him in the enlistment queue was his elder brother Albert, 36 years old and single. Albert was a farrier and blacksmith who had worked for Mr Houston of Karangahape Road, Auckland for the previous 15 years. They both sailed with the Fourth Reinforcements and joined their battalion in the trenches at Anzac on 8 June 1915 and served at Courtney’s Post through the summer of 1915.
On night 6/7 August they were part of the night advance onto Chunuk Bair. Morning 7 August found the New Zealanders at The Apex – a triangle of sheltered ground on Rhododendron Ridge about 500 metres short of the crest of Chunuk Bair. It was now that a hesitant New Zealand brigade commander fatally paused for three vital hours. Finally, at 11 am an attack was launched up the ridge towards Chunuk Bair by the men of the Auckland Battalion. The heights were now lined with Ottoman soldiers and the New Zealanders were shot down as they advanced. It was here that George Lowther was killed and his brother Albert wounded with a bullet in his right leg.
Whether he was “William” or “George” caused some confusion at his death and the reports in the Auckland newspapers were not sure if the William George Lowther reported as being killed in action to his wife now living in Rotorua was the same man as the George William Lowther whose death was reported to his father in Auckland. The date of his death was given as 10 August 1915. His memorial stone at The Farm has the date 8 August. However, when Albert Lowther returned to Auckland in 1916 unfit for active service, he told the family that George was killed on 7 August: the day of the attack. From then on, the family memorial notices in the newspapers on the anniversary of his death stated 7 August 1915. Ironically, Albert was unaware that his own personal file stated that he was wounded on 8 August 1915. Walk the ground today and scattered bones are still evident a century on. Dates meant little to New Zealanders fighting on this ground in August 1915: men died every day.
The Farm Cemetery is on a small terrace of ground on the seaward side of Chunuk Bair. It can be accessed from the firebreak track that runs down from Chunuk Bair onto Rhododendron Ridge which was the jump-off point for the New Zealand attacks on 7 and 8 August 1915. It gets its name from a stone shepherd’s hut and pen that was visible from the New Zealand-held outposts on the coast. It was first held by the Gurkhas on 7 August who took part in the unsuccessful attack with the Auckland Infantry Battalion on Chunuk Bair. It was in this attack that Corporal William Lowther was killed although his headstone states it was on the following day, 8 August: the day the Wellington Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel Malone took Chunuk Bair.
On 8 August the Farm was occupied by men of the Māori Contingent. Rhododendron Ridge is so narrow that the men on the left did not have enough room to advance up the ridge line and so were inevitably channelled by the ground onto this small terrace of land at “The Farm.” It happened to the Gurkhas on 7 August and then again to the Māori the next morning.
On 22 April 2007 I spent a day at The Farm with Nevak Rogers who ran and fronted the very popular “Marae D.I.Y”. programme and a crew from Te Māori Television filming where her grandfather, Rota Waipara, a member of B Company of the Māori Contingent fought and was wounded. Being one of the walking wounded he managed to make his way back down to the beach and receive medical treatment at the Casualty Clearing Station at No.3 Outpost. That made him one of the lucky ones. I wrote in my diary that evening.
‘The Farm is quiet compared to the noise of the crowds on the crest of Chunuk Bair above, the consciousness of so many dead and only a handful of names on the headstones. Here it really hits home and Nevak’s eyes are streaming as she says that had her “Nanny Pa” been a stretcher case rather than a walking wounded, and then it is likely he would be one of the unknown dead here.’ [22 April 2007, Pugsley Diary, Gallipoli and Turkey 2007, p.16.]
Over the following days the Māori were joined by several British battalions who were swept away in the Turkish counterattack on 10 August. This terrace of ground became the Ottoman front line and the track you walk down today with its high earth bank on either side was the Turkish communication trench that was dug after the battle to connect the front line to the high ground at Chunuk Bair. The cemetery was made after the Armistice in 1918 when the battlefields were scoured for the bones of the dead. There are the remains of 652 Commonwealth servicemen buried in this cemetery. George Lowther is one of seven known individuals who are believed to be buried here: each identified by a memorial tablet. He is the only named New Zealander. It seems that some item found among the bones collected by the Graves Registration Unit identified him. He lies with the unknown dead. How many of them, New Zealanders, will never be known? Here Māori and Pakeha, Briton and Ghurkha, fought and now lie side by side.
The Auckland Infantry Battalion had 63 killed, 23 missing, and 229 wounded in this battle. There are only 10 Aucklanders, including George Lowther, who died in the August fighting for Chunuk Bair who have known graves on the Peninsula.
Two are buried in No.2 Outpost Cemetery
- BROWN, Private 12/953 HENRY WILLIAM BERWICK, 8 August 1915, Age 29, NO.2 OUTPOST CEMETERY B. 5. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand.
- LEGGE, Private 12/2365 CHARLES STEWART, 10 August 1915, Age 24 NO.2 OUTPOST CEMETERY F. 14. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand.
Four are buried in Embarkation Pier Cemetery.
- COHEN, Serjeant 12/1048 ERNEST HENRY MELMOTT, 10 August 1915 EMBARKATION PIER CEMETERY Sp. Mem. B. 53. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand
- INGRAM, Private 12/215 HOWARD LEWIS, 7 August 1915, Age 49, EMBARKATION PIER CEMETERY Sp. Mem. B. 76. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand
- LAW, Private 12/1452 ALFRED JOHN, 8 August 1915, EMBARKATION PIER CEMETERY, Sp. Mem. C. 1. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand
- LAWSON, Private 12/1073 PETER, 8 August 1915, EMBARKATION PIER CEMETERY, Sp. Mem. C. 2. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand.
One lies buried in Canterbury Cemetery.
- TRIVES, Private 12/2499 LAWRENCE STANLEY, 12 August 1915, CANTERBURY CEMETERY, ANZAC II. B. 3. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand
One lies buried in Beach Cemetery at the southern tip of Anzac Cove.
- YOUNG, Private 12/892 NORMAN STUART, 17 August 1915, BEACH CEMETERY ANZAC II H 24. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand
One lies buried in Baby 700 Cemetery.
- GRUNDY, Private 12/1967 HENRY VERNON, 8 August 1915, BABY 700 CEMETERY ANZAC D 34. Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. New Zealand
The Lowther Family Agony Continues
The tragedy and agony of war had not yet finished with the Lowther family. It seems Albert chafed at being back in New Zealand. In 1917 he re-joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force sailed for Europe and after an initial posting to the Auckland Regiment, did a stint with the New Zealand Tunnelling Company in Arras, where his blacksmithing skills were an advantage, before being posted to D Company, 2nd Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade on 24 February 1918. On 2 April 1918 he was reported wounded and missing in the fighting on the Somme when the New Zealand Division played its part in halting the German offensive. Albert was believed to be a prisoner of war.
His parents heard nothing further but lived with the agony of hope of some good news through the Swiss Red Cross from a German prisoner of war camp. On 29 November 1918, the New Zealand Herald reported him as killed in action on 2 April 1918. This was a finding of a Court of Enquiry held in France on 8 November 1918. Albert Lowther’s body was never identified. He is listed on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Grevillers. For the Lowther family the grieving continued for two of their sons: William George Lowther believed to be buried at The Farm on Gallipoli and Albert Edward Lowther whose bones lie somewhere in France.
Dr Christopher Pugsley, ONZM is a New Zealand military historian and former New Zealand Army officer. He is the author of some 20 books: the first of which is Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story. His most recent is Le Quesnoy 1918: New Zealand's Last Battle. He was Curator and Creative Director of the "Scars on the Heart" permanent exhibition at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. He was Historical Director of the current "Gallipoli the Scale of our War Exhibition" at Te Papa Tongarewa - Museum of New Zealand.
Cite this article
Dr Christopher Pugsley.
Corporal William George Lowther: ‘the least visited Kiwi on the peninsula’. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 1 September 2020. Updated: 2 September 2020.