Bruce Dowding (OW1932)

Kenneth Bruce Dowding (OW1932), known to family and friends as Bruce, was well known to the students, teachers, and parents of Wesley College in the 1930s and 1940s.

Bruce Dowding (OW1932)

At school he was a keen sportsman, playing in both the 1932 football and cricket Firsts. His father, John Macallum Dowding, also attended the College for a year in 1890 before finishing his secondary education at Caulfield Grammar.

While studying to become a teacher, Bruce started a part-time position at Wesley teaching French to the Junior School (then known as ‘Prep School’), beginning a full-time teaching role in 1935. He was also a member of the Collegians Premiership teams in 1936 and 1937.

Bruce Dowding (front row, far left) was a member of Wesley’s 1932 Firsts Cricket Team

Bruce arrived in Paris in 1938 planning to improve his understanding of French language and culture by undertaking a short course at the Sorbonne. He was living there when war broke out. He joined the British Army as an interpreter but was captured near Calais in June 1940.

He escaped the POW camp in August 1940, and upon reaching the relative safety of Marseille in Vichy France, began working undercover as André Mason for British Intelligence organisation MI9, organising the exfiltration of hundreds of Allied servicemen to Spain.

In February 1940, after he had joined the British Army, Bruce wrote to his worried parents saying:

‘For what I have done – that is done and had to be done; for what is yet to be done, may I have the courage and patience to do it decently.’

Betrayed at the end of 1941 by Harold Cole, one of the most written-about traitors of World War II, Dowding endured eighteen months in Nazi prisons. He was tried as an enemy of the Reich and on 30 June 1943 - at just 29 years of age, was executed by guillotine in Dortmund, Germany. His fate remained unknown until 1946. Despite Dowding’s role in the rescue of hundreds of Allied servicemen, Australia has never recognised him as one of its heroes and little was known of his time in France until now.

Author Peter Dowding at the book launch

The book, Secret Agent, Unsung Hero is based on decades of research by Bruce’s nephew, former Premier of Western Australia and lawyer, Peter Dowding and historian and author, Ken Spillman.

Peter launched the book to a packed auditorium at The Shrine of Remembrance on 29 August, bringing to life Dowding’s extraordinary journey from suburban Melbourne to Europe at war. The book is available for purchase at reputable book shops and online sellers.

The book demonstrates Bruce’s courage to do what he thought was right, regardless of personal consequences. Ultimately, he lost his life in this pursuit.

Peter and wife Benita visited the College for the first time the day after the launch of his book at the invitation of Principal Nick Evans (OW1985). They viewed the ‘Book of Remembrance’ which was created in 1955 and contains a list of all the OWs who have lost their lives during military service. It’s held in a purpose-built cabinet in the Chapel.

Wesley College is proud to acknowledge Bruce Dowding as one of the finest to have worn the purple and gold. Lest we forget.

Philip J Powell (OW1973)

Bruce with the group

Want to know more?

Netflix series ‘Transatlantic’ is based on the true story of Varian Fry, Mary Jane Gold and Albert Hirschman who banded together after France was invaded by Germany in 1940 to create the Emergency Rescue Committee.

This photo shows Bruce Dowding (second from left) with this incredible group of people in France in the 1940s.

Stilwell Motor Group ad

Follow Peter Dowding on Facebook here.

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