Early years - served in verious expeditions in West Africa, commanded the gunboat HMS SULTAN during the Battle of Omdurman and the whole gunboat squadron during the Fashoda Incident with the French during which he was awarded the DSO. Cowan then went south to participate in the Second Boer War, saw extensive sea service as a Destroyer Captain afterwards and then service the the Battlecruiser force during WW1 (including the Battle of Jutland where his ship was heavily damaged) during which he was known to be one of "the most offensively minded of the Grand-Fleet officers."
"Walter Cowan, Captain of the [Lion class battlecruiser] Princess Royal, had been a close friend of [Admiral] Beatty's from both midshipman and Nile-gunboat days. He was a ferocious midget who loved war so much that he spent his leave periods in the trenches in France and wept when the Armistice was announced. "
It was also said that he "was the only Officer in the Grand Fleet that was sorry the war was over"
Gordon continues: "He became the scourge of the Bolsheviks in the Baltic in 1919 [As a Rear-Admiral he commanded a Light Cruiser Squadron from his flagship Delhi and sank 2 Russian Battleships and 1 destroyer], and ended his naval career as Admiral of the Fleet.[not quite true, but he was a full Admiral]"
Cowan came out of retirement in 1940, accepting demotion to the rank of Commander, to join an Indian armoured regiment in North Africa. He was captured by the Italians when he personally attacked a tank by himself armed with only a revolver! Subsequently released by the Italians on humanitarian grounds he joined the Commandos as a Naval liasion officer, aged 72. He saw further action in clandestine actions in Italy and the Med from 1943 where he won a second DSO in 1944 (more than 40 years after earning his first one) before retiring once more.
There are 2 books dedicaed to his service which would be fascinating reading:
- Lionel George Dawson, Sound of the guns, being an account of the wars and service of Admiral Sir Walter Cowan (Pen-in-hand, Oxford, 1949);
- Geoffrey Bennett, Cowan's war: the story of British naval operations in the Baltic, 1918-1920 (Collins, London, 1964) - reprinted in 2002 as "Freeing the Baltic" (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Freeing-Baltic-Geoffrey-Bennett/dp/184341001X)
His Service biography is: