SOE's Lt Roland Dowlen remembered
In October we were pleased to be approached by one of our partner organisations, the Brookwood Last Post Association, to contribute to their monthly Last Post ceremony at Brookwood Military Cemetery, near Woking and Guildford, in Surrey, on Sunday, 4th November 2018. The Association has a number of themes for its ceremonies over the year and November's theme, with a relatively-rare opportunity to reach a lot of young people, was Scouting. We were asked if we knew of any former Scouts commemorated or buried at Brookwood (the largest military cemetery in Britain and a very beautiful place) and indeed we did - Lieutenant Roland Dowlen, a radio operator of French Section, SOE.
Dowlen was a tragic figure, commemorated on the cemetery's Memorial to the Missing 1939-45. Prior to WW2, in July 1937 he founded the 22nd South Poplar Scout Troop at St Luke’s church, Milwall on the Isle of Dogs, in east London, close to where he was living at the time in the East London Scout Settlement in Stepney Green Road, London E1.
He was a much-admired and well-respected troop leader, who would be remembered and honoured many years later by the boys in the troop. One founder member, Kenneth Kneeshaw, recalled: "At one time the troop was at camp and one boy from each patrol was designated to cook the breakfast for his patrol. Roland was sitting by the fire where a boy was cooking sausages in a large Dixie lid. Suddenly the contents caught fire. The boy dragged the lid from the fire but in so doing he tipped the hot fat and contents over Roland's leg. Roland said nothing, he merely rolled his sock down, poured cold water over the affected part and the incident was never mentioned again." Dowlen served in the Royal Army Service Corps before volunteering for SOE. After training, he was flown into occupied France by Lysander aircraft in March 1943 to serve as a radio operator to the CHESTNUT circuit. He was arrested by the Germans in July 1943 and executed at Flossenburg concentration camp in March 1945. Dowlen was therefore the focal point of the Last Post ceremony's individual remembrance element and, to support that, Trustee Paul McCue gave a preceding brief presentation/talk on Dowlen at the Memorial to the Missing which bears his name.
The ceremony itself was a tremendous affair, with some 280 attendees, mostly young people, and Paul spoke of Dowlen's life, service and death. Our friends Edd and Dagmar, provided refreshments at The Trench Experience, to the rear of the RAF Shelter after the ceremony. Our grateful thanks to them. NB Our charity has been very busy over the Remembrance 'season', especially at Brookwood Military Cemetery where we have provided representation at Czech/Slovak, French, German, Canadian, British Army (Army Training Centre, Pirbright), and American services and ceremonies.
Photos courtesy of Carol Brown & Paul McCue