East & West Africa Medal 1887-99

Awarded to Admiral Sir Walter Henry Cowan (1871-1956). Obverse: Head of Queen Victoria in a diadem and veil (left). Legend: 'VICTORIA REGINA'. Reverse: a group of soldiers and Africans fighting in the bush for their fallen comrades. Suspended from a bar, and yellow ribbon with a broad black edge and two narrow black central stripes. Bars: 'BRASS RIVER 1895', 'BENIN 1897'. Inscription on edge: 'LIEUT. W.H. COWAN, R.N. H.M.S. BARROSA. MWELE'.

Cowan was mentioned in dispatches for services during the Benin expedition 1 January 1897.

Cowan entered HMS ‘Britannia’ as a naval cadet in 1884. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1892 and commanded HMS ‘Redbreast’ between 1893 and 1895 in the Red Sea. In 1895 he was appointed to HMS ‘Barrosa’ on the Cape station. He saw active service during the Brass River and Benin expeditions in 1897 and in 1898 commanded the gunboat flotilla on the Nile during the operations in the Sudan. Cowan was promoted to commander in 1901 and to captain in 1906. After almost two years in the post of assistant to the admiral of patrols, Cowan was sent in 1914 to HMS ‘Zealandia’ in the Grand Fleet. He joined HMS ‘Princess Royal’ in 1915 and in her was present at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He was appointed commodore commanding the First Light Cruiser Squadron in the Grand Fleet in 1917 and reappointed after his promotion to rear-admiral in 1918. He continued to command it as well as the naval force in the Baltic during the anti-Bolshevik operations in 1920, for which he became well-known. In 1921 he took command of the Baltic Cruiser Squadron. After a year as commanding officer on the coast of Scotland, Cowan became, in 1926, Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies, and it was during his two years there that his station was extended to include South America. Cowan was promoted to admiral in 1927, was appointed first and principal aide-de-camp to the King in 1929 and retired in 1930. At the age of sixty-eight, he persuaded the Admiralty to employ him for the duration of the war in the rank of commander. He served as liaison officer with a commando brigade in the eastern Mediterranean during 1941 and was then attached to an Indian regiment in the Western Desert. He was captured at Bir Hakeim in 1942 and repatriated the following year. After further active service he retired in 1945.

Object Details

ID: MED2508
Collection: Coins and medals
Type: War medal
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Wyon, Leonard Charles; Poynter, Edward John
Events: Benin Expedition, 1897
People: Cowan, Walter Henry
Credit: On loan to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, from a private lender
Measurements: Overall: 36 mm

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