Oswald was the elder son of H. M. Dowson, of Holiday House, Oxford, and of Mrs. Dowson (Rosina Filippi). He was born in 1896, came to the Dragon as a day boy in 1905 and left in 1910. He was a most promising artist, actor, and musician. He was also a splendid swimmer and diver, a clever boxer, and a good Rugby forward. In 1909 he got his XV colours, played cello solos in our concerts, and acted the part of the ‘Musician’ in Twelfth Night. In 1910 he acted ‘Westmoreland’ in Henry IV, part I.
He went on to Rugby in January 1911 and represented Rugby as a diver and played cello solos at the Rugby School concerts.
When the war broke out he got a commission in the 4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment; 1915, Lieutenant; 1916, wounded at Richebourg; 1917, Captain; was reported missing on the 3rd May 1917, after the battle of Arras. For a long time hopes were entertained that he might have been a prisoner in Germany, but subsequent inquiries clearly prove that he was killed in the attack to the north of Oppy Wood.
Captain Green, of the 1st Royal Berks, writes on the 28th May 1917:
‘. . As you perhaps know, my Company, to which your son belonged, attacked on April 28th, and he got back safely. Then at dawn on May 3rd the remnants again attacked. The attack was successful in that we gained our objective, but no supplies were sent us, and we had to evacuate the captured trench, lie in shell holes close by till dark, and then get back. John was quite fit after we entered the Boche line, and was so when last seen a few minutes before our withdrawal. I have carefully questioned all the survivors, but from this time onwards nothing has been seen or heard of him. He was a great favourite with all of us, officers and men alike. My own loss as his Company Commander is very grave, as apart from his splendid soldierly qualities, he was such an excellent and refreshing companion.’
John was one of our most faithful and loving and beloved Old Boys. When home on leave he was always about, ready to take a form or a game, or to play to us. It cheered us up to see his fine face and gloriously radiant smile, and indeed few boys have been so much loved by his comrades and masters and all who had dealings with him.
His Housemaster at Rugby writes:
“Ingenui vultus Auer, ingenuique pudoris.” Sometimes the oldest and stalest quotation revives with a new vigour and meaning in the mind, and no one who knew John Dowson could fail to find a new and unexpected freshness in that hackneyed line. For the quality that most stood out in him was delightful ingenuousness, which sprang from a complete absence of vanity and self-consciousness and a readiness to respond to all that was friendly or beautiful or amazing in the world. His intellectual abilities were curiously uneven. He was backward at most of the work which is done at schools and he became the ‘doyen’ of the Lower Middles. It was always a toss up in his Latin exercises whether Caesar would mount his horse, or the horse mount Caesar, but when Shakespeare’s Caesar went out to his death on the Ides of March no one could be more keenly alive than John to the situation; for he was a born actor, and was never so much himself as when he was imitating somebody else. He was in short no reasoner, but an artist with a real love of beauty: and he showed it in his writing, for he could write with freshness and humour, as the pages of the Draconian can testify; in his music too, for he was a most promising cellist, and he sang as a boy with admirable taste. How far he would have gone as musician or sculptor no one can say: undoubtedly there was in him a touch of genius struggling all the time for expression, and with more and more success. As it is, he takes his place among the foremost of that glorious company of young and eager souls whose images are ever before us, with his clear steady eyes and a half smile on his lips, looking as though some fairy were whispering in his ear queer comments on our mortal world.’
H. C. B.