Parcell Rees Bowen was born at Llangain, Carmarthenshire, on 22 July 1893. Having been educated at Carmarthen Grammar School, he enrolled at St David’s College in October 1912. Bowen, whose nickname at the college was ‘Plancio’, played an active role in the sporting life of the college. Having previously played rugby for the Carmarthen Quins he joined the College XV and in 1913 unsuccessfully stood for the position of Rugby Secretary.
The outbreak of WW1 interrupted Bowen’s academic life and he immediately enlisted as a private in the 1st Bedfordshire Army Service Corps. He was sent to France, where he spent the winter of 1914/15, but was sent home in February 1915 with badly frostbitten feet. Upon his return to the company, Bowen was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment. In July of that year he embarked for Gallipoli on the SS Huntsgreen, where his regiment formed part of the 159 Brigade, 53rd (Welsh) Division, which fought at Gallipoli until its evacuation in December.
The following year the Division was sent to Egypt where Bowen transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. In August 1917 he was awarded his first decoration, the Military Cross, for his bravery during the Palestine Campaign. In January 1918 Bowen transferred into the Royal Air Force, becoming an Observer in 14 Squadron. He flew RE8s in support of the Army advance through Palestine and on to Damascus, until the Turkish Armistice of October 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his ‘courage and determination’ in February 1919.
After the Armistice Bowen served in Salonika and Mesopotamia before being placed on the unemployed list. However, his thirst for adventure drove him to volunteer for further service with the RAF. In July 1919 he arrived at Archangel, in the north of Western Russia, where he met an old compatriot, the air Ace Ira ‘Taffy’ Jones. In his memoirs, An Airfighter’s Scrapbook, Ira wrote glowing reports of Bowen, pleased to see another Welsh warrior in his squadron.
Bowen served with No 3 Squadron, Slavo-British Aviation Corps, at Bereznik. The Corps was a mixture of British and Russian personnel fighting for the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. In August 1919, flying in a two-seater piloted by William Roswell Moscrip, Bowen engaged a Bolshevik Nieuport over Toima. Both men were seriously wounded in the encounter and Bowen was forced to take control of the plane after Moscrip collapsed, flying one hundred-miles with a wound sustained in his elbow. For this action he received a Bar to his DFC.
Bowen was returned home wounded and again placed on the unemployed list but, unable to stay away from the action, he volunteered for a Commission in the Lithuanian Army, serving with them between October 1919 and March 1920. Four months after his return home Bowen accepted a Top Secret British Government post in Dublin, at a time when the ‘Troubles’ were at their peak. Assuming the cover of an agent for a Welsh coal company, he lodged with a fellow undercover British officer and both became associated with a unit of British Intelligence agents nicknamed ‘The Cairo Gang’.
On 27 October 1920 both men spent the afternoon watching a football match at Donnybrook, after which Bowen disappeared. His body was later discovered in an archway in Lower Merrion Street, Dublin, shot by a single ∙45 bullet. Questions still surround his death, for while it had been assumed that he had been assassinated by the IRA, a book published in 1931 suggested that he may have been murdered by his fellow British agents.
Bowen’s body was brought back to Carmarthen where he was buried with full military honours in Saint David’s churchyard in Abergwilli.
Roberts, Sarah (2017) Parcell Rees Bowen St David’s College Student, WW1 Hero, Wounded by the Bolsheviks, Assassinated in Dublin. Exhibition booklet