The Cowley Years

Despite the injection of younger members, the older officials such as the Chairman clung to office which meant that by the late 1960s, the League had become somewhat moribund, bought about by their lack of foresight, due mainly to their advanced ages. Warrant Officer Class 1 (RSM) James Cowley DCM of the Coldstream Guards joined the League in 1950. His post-war service had taken him to Egypt, Germany, London, Shorncliffe and Cyprus, and it was not until he returned to England could he immerse himself into the activities of the DCM League. Early in the 1960s he was made Parade Marshal of the London Branch, responsible for drilling members parading at Horse Guards and the Cenotaph each year. Jim retired as a Major, finally leaving the Army in 1968. Although working in the North East shipyards, he maintained a link with the London Branch of the League. At that time, Major Johnno Johnston MBE DCM of the Irish Guards had been appointed as the President of the League. After only a few years in the post, Johnno Johnston died in 1974 and the Chairman invited Jim Cowley to become the President. He took up the post on the 9 September that year, and wrote the following letter in accepting the post:

“Dear Brother McAlister, Thank you for your letter dated 1st September 1974. I have much pleasure in accepting the Presidency of the Distinguished Conduct Medal League from Monday 9th September 1974. The date I was awarded the DCM was 9th September so my 30th anniversary can be marked in a most conspicuous manner by the honour bestowed upon me. My duties a President will be carried out in a conscientious and dignified way, consistent with the limitations I have listed in a former letter. I shall do my best to uphold and perpetuate the League’s illustrious name in all our undertaking. In time our ranks will dwindle; through age our steps might falter and our bodies grow frail. But let our hearts, which once spurred us on to courageous actions on the battlefield, remain stout and resolute within the League. Please thank all those responsible for conferring this honour upon me. Yours sincerely and fraternally, JC Cowley.”

With many ex-Service organisations closing down, he sensed that the DCM League was failing and faltering. The best that Cowley could do was to keep in touch with several other DCM stalwarts around the country to maintain an interest. Interestingly, Bob and Malcom Moyse, two grandsons of Bob Moyse, the founder of the League, also supported him and by sheer strength of character, as well as administrative support in their endeavours from his daughter Jacqui, the League managed to survive. After his retirement, the Queen appointed Jim Cowley a Military Knight of Windsor in 1982. He decided to use the time on his hands and the opportunity of being based in Windsor Castle to resurrect the League. At that time, the League still had a branch network and each had their own Chairman and with the increasing demise of the WW1 membership through the 1970s and 80s, Jim decided that it would be better to try and consolidate the League into a centrally controlled body. He started writing newsletters and with the assistance of others, he reformed a committee that met at his quarters in Lower Ward within Windsor Castle. The original committee included Dougie Colville DCM, John Williams DCM, Jimmy Romaines DCM and Ron Kenny DCM.

Jim was adamant about recreating the Musters and a worldwide exercise was set in motion inviting all DCM holders to a Muster in Windsor Castle to be held on 14 September 1985 to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the institution of the DCM. Such was his persistence, planning and preparation that over 200 DCM holders attended from all over the world. In addition to medallists from the UK, DCM holders from Australia, Canada, Fiji, Greece, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and USA attended the parade and the service of remembrance and re-dedication in the Queen’s Free Chapel of St George. Interestingly, the DCM holder from Fiji paraded wearing a grass skirt. Also present was Jakovos Theodoulou, the only Cypriot to be awarded the DCM. The Queen sent her good wishes to all present for a very memorable and enjoyable occasion and thanked the members of the League for their loyal greetings. The event was such a great success that it was decided to hold a Muster every other year in cities across Great Britain where DCM holders were resident to help supervise the event. The Chairman at that time, Harry Glover DCM lived in Nottingham so the next Muster was held in that city in 1987. Others took place in Winchester and Chester. In 1995, the League held its Muster at Lansing College at which the first GM holder, Mike Knox, participated. The Muster included a parade at the Town Hall in Worthing where the League were received by the Mayor.

Field Marshal, the Lord Brammall and Jim Cowley chat to Kit Colfach DCM, a member of the Danish resistance in WW2

With the demise of so many DCM holders during those years, it was decided in 1995 to use two establishments in London, the Victory Services Club and the Royal Chelsea Hospital Chelsea as permanent locations for the Muster. This arrangement worked well for ten years however, apart from the problems associated with car parking, it became a very repetitive and predictable event and was loosing its appeal. Because of the number of celebratory events being held to celebrate the Millenium in 2000, the Committee decided not to hold a Muster that year. As an alternative, it was decided to hold a Muster in Australia in October 1999 at which several members travelled to participate in the celebrations on the Gold Coast in Queensland with members living in Australia and other gallantry medallists.