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Lieut-Col Percy John Cowan (c1876-1954), joint editor of Engineering
1906 Joined the staff of Engineering
IN our last issue we recorded briefly the death of Lieut.-Colonel Percy John Cowan, which occurred on November 15th at his home at Cranes Park, Surbiton, Surrey. Lieut.-Colonel Cowan, who was seventy-eight, was joint editor of our contemporary, Engineering, from 1924 until he retired in 1938.
Percy Cowan, who was the third son of the late Dr. T. W. Cowan, was educated at Rugby School and at University College, London. He served an apprenticeship in the Doncaster locomotive works of the former Great Northern Railway until 1899 and afterwards he continued for three years or so in the service of the G.N.R. During that time he made two visits to America to inspect locomotives, much of the experience gained undoubtedly forming the basis of a paper on "American Locomotive Practice," which he presented to the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1903. For that paper Cowan was awarded a Telford Premium and a George Stephenson gold medal.
In December, 1903, Lieut.-Colonel Cowan was appointed assistant to the chief mechanical engineer of the Egyptian State Railways. Three years later he joined the editorial staff of Engineering, on which he served for thirty-two years apart from his years of military service, in the first world war. He was with the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, with the Royal Engineers, and later with the Railway Directorate, being mentioned in dispatches. In 1919 Lieut.-Colonel Cowan took part in the Afghan campaign with the North - West Frontier Force. He was awarded the M.B.E. in 1920. The second world war started so on after Lieut.-Colonel Cowan 's retiretnent from Engineering and for the greater part of it he was fully occupied as Army welfare officer for the County of Surrey. Lieut.-Colonel Cowan was elected to associate membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1903 and transferred to full membership in 1927. He had been a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers since 1904, and in collaboration with Mr. F . H. Trevithick presented a paper, in 1913, on "Some Effects of Superheating and Feed-Water Heating on Locomotive Working," in respect of which the eighth award of the Willans Premium was made.
But, probably, Lieut.-Colonel Cowan's greatest service to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and to his fellow men was performed almost in secret. Only those who served with him on the committee of the Benevolent Fund of that Institution can have a full conception of the amount of work be put into a job very close to his heart. He served repeatedly as deputy-chairman, presiding in that capacity over committee meetings; and in or out of the chair he wielded a great and beneficent influence over its deliberations, through his common-sense, wisdom, the sincerity of his humane regard for the interests of those supported and helped by the Fund, and the understanding he so often demonstrated of human nature.
1954 Obituary