Richard William Stowers November 11, 1951 – April 20, 2021
Graphic artist and military historian Richard Stowers, who died in Hamilton aged 69, changed the way this country thought about New Zealand's effort and casualties at Gallipoli in World War I.
His painstaking research for the first time proved not only that official estimates of the numbers of those who fought were wrong, but altered the manner in which authorities calculated our war dead in the campaign.
Speaking at a standing-room-only farewell attended by uniformed representatives of the NZ Army, fellow historian Hugh Keane said Richard became an acknowledged expert on the campaign after the publication of his book Bloody Gallipoli.
"And he was the first historian to solve the puzzle of how many New Zealanders served on Gallipoli. The official number for almost 100 years was 8500 men. Richard's research confirmed the number was double that."
Hugh said Richard's research was validated in 2020 with the Defence Force publication Phenomenal and Wicked, in which authors John Crawford and Matthew Buck acknowledged Richard's Gallipoli work as "meticulous".
Then-Minister of Defence Ron Mark had said the research provided New Zealanders with a better understanding of the human cost of our country's ill-fated participation in the Gallipoli campaign and why it had so much impact on our history.
Richard described himself as an "armistice child" because he was born just a few minutes after 11am on November 11 in the old maternity hospital in Cambridge.
His childhood growing up on a dairy farm in the Maungatautari district was one dominated from an early age with a passion for hunting. Aged 11, he was given his first rifle (a rusty Winchester single-shot .22) and spent many happy hours cycling the district hunting possums and rabbits, the weapon slung casually over his shoulder.
At school he excelled in social studies, mathematics and art. Richard played first XV for Cambridge High as a flanker and had a few games for Hautapu once he left school. He played to a 16 handicap at the Cambridge Golf Club but loved badminton, and eventually won every championship, both open and handicapped. He was club captain and coach for several years and took the interclub team to victory over 16 sides for the Waikato Competition.
However, at an early age he saw himself first and foremost an artist. Aged 13, and to much acclaim, he completed a large pastel mural of settlers on a bush track for the 1964 Cambridge centennial celebrations. Later, while still a schoolboy, he teamed with Cambridge artist Kay Walsh to hold two successful exhibitions and won two main category mixed media awards at the National Lion Breweries Art Awards.
After school (he got UE with 95 per cent for art) he enrolled in architecture at Auckland University but after a semester returned home to Cambridge to seek an art career in Hamilton.
He started in the art and copy department of the Waikato Times for the gross amount of $22 a week and by the time he'd paid tax, his fare from Cambridge and board money, he had $3 left for beer.
At the end of 1976, after working as a graphic artist for several Hamilton firms, Richard took his OE on the SS Australis, bought an old dunger VW van in London, and explored Europe before travelling to Kathmandu on the back of an old army Bedford. It was on this trip he got his first sight of the Gallipoli battlefields, where his great uncle Frederick Stowers is buried at Anzac Cove.
When he flew home in 1978, Richard had 20¢ to his name, was wearing silk harem pants and an embroidered shirt, and carried a sailor's canvas kitbag stuffed with a hubble-bubble water pipe and a silk carpet.
He returned to the Waikato Times before setting up his own business.
In the 1980s, he developed a growing passion for New Zealand military history, and he was to publish 13 painstakingly researched and superbly illustrated books.
His first book, New Zealand Rough Riders, documented this country's participation in the Boer War, and went to eight editions. The book was the first comprehensive roll of New Zealanders who had served in the South African war and, in his signature style, is noteworthy in not simply listing names but also providing information on each soldier, where they came from, the battles they took part in, and where and when they died.
Over the years, he accumulated a huge collection of more than 8000 NZ military and early NZ civilian historic photographs, and developed a substantial military and NZ history reference library.
Hugh said that after researching the Boer War, Richard changed focus to the New Zealand land wars. His great grandfather Samuel Stowers had served in the land wars.
His research involved many field trips visiting pa, old redoubts, museums, churches, libraries, cemeteries and battlefields.
This interest produced books on the Forest Rangers, Gustav Von Tempsky – and the first comprehensive roll of soldiers, both pakeha and Māori who served with the Colonial Forces.
In 2000, Richard's focus changed again – to Gallipoli. After publishing Bloody Gallipoli Richard became an acknowledged expert on the campaign.
"Richard always seemed to have a book on the go," Hugh said. "No sooner had he finished one, and he was on to the next, collecting photographs, stories, facts and figures.
He wrote about New Zealand air aces Cobber Kain and Mac McGregor, and the Kiwi Pathfinder pilot James Fraser-Barron, and he published a book about his father, Bob Stowers, who flew Wellington bombers in the Mediterranean theatre during the World War II.
"As a graphic artist, his books were well presented with detailed photographs, maps and biographical details of participants. The format he developed has since been copied by other New Zealand military historians."
In 2008, Richard published Waikato Troopers: History of the Waikato Mounted Rifles. Here, Hugh said, Richard was in his element – a local unit with a long and distinguished history. For this book Richard was made an honorary member of the Waikato Mounted Rifles Association.
Richard was honoured by the Waipa District Council, the Cambridge Armistice Association, and the Hamilton City Council for his contribution to local history – and for the generosity of his research.
Richard was diagnosed with muscular neuron disease in 2017. Friend and fellow author Kingsley Field said Richard struggled with his illness with a remarkable calm, dignity and extraordinary bravery.
"I never once heard him offer a word of anguish or self-pity. He retained a wry and sparky sense of humour right to the end."
Once diagnosed Richard returned to his art and produced 34 pastels of the Waikato and Coromandel – some while wheelchair-bound, and a final few with his right hand as his left succumbed to MND. All sold on the night of his final exhibition.
Richard Stowers was husband for 39 years to Gill; father and father-in-law to sons Jim and partner Geli, Craig and Benna, Nick, and Scott; and daughter Amy and Ryan. Loving pops to newborn Izzy.