Major Philip Edwin Gower, MC, was born May 10, 1915 in Regina, Saskatchewan to Edwin Percival and Lillian Gower (nee Black). He enlisted September 5, 1939 with the Winnipeg Rifles with whom he landed on D-Day with the first wave. For his actions as ‘B’ Company Commander that day he was awarded the Military Cross.
The citation reads:
Military Cross, Infantry (Royal Winnipeg Rifles) – awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 26 May 1945. “On 6 June 1944 – D-Day – with under command “B” Company, one platoon of “C” Company, and one section of Pioneers, Royal Winnipeg Rifles, plus one and one-half sections No. 6 Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, Captain Gower assaulted and captured Red Beach of Mike Sector at Courseulles-sur-Mer. This beach was defended by four large casemates and fifteen other enemy positions, all entirely unaffected by the pre-assault bombardment.
Eye-witnesses of his command stated that throughout this action and in spite of having lost his helmet during the landing, Captain Gower stood upright on the beach, cooly directing the employment of his sub-units and by his personal example of bravery, skill and daring reduced the defences one by one until the beach defences were overcome. Had it not been for this officer’s courage and outstanding devotion to duty in the face of tremendous odds, the landing and advance inland of the remainder of the Battalion would have been seriously hampered.
It is considered that this officer’s bravery, determination and dauntless leadership contributed tremendously to the Battalion’s successful advance to its Brigade objective.”
Following the war, Captain Gower remained in the peacetime army and joined the 2nd Battalion Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (Regular Force) and was promoted to Major.
On 09 December 1956, while returning from active duty with the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) in Korea, the plane carrying Major Gower and 61 other passengers and crew crashed into Mount Slesse in the Fraser Valley following departure from Vancouver. Everyone on board died, including four Regina Roughrider football players returning from the all-star game in Vancouver. The site of the crash was so isolated that it was not discovered for 5 months. The coroner landed by helicopter and held a mountaintop funeral ceremony for Major Gower and the other victims. Recovery of any bodies or wreckage was deemed too perilous, so all have stayed on the mountain to this day. Mount Slesse has become a dedicated memorial, with access banned to the crash site.
Due, likely, to the location of his death, Major Gower was initially not on the list of casualties of the Korean War but due to the efforts of MGen Herb Pitts, Gower and a number of other Queen’s Own casualties were added by 2012.
In January 2001, following the Change of RSM parade, Major Gower’s granddaughter, Corporal Tammy Dettrich from CFS Leitrim, presented his sword to the Regiment, were it will be carried by QOR officers with pride. The Regimental Museum at Casa Loma also has in its collection one of Gower’s Service Dress uniforms.
With content from The Rifleman Magazine 2000-2001