Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra (8 April 1898 – 4 July 1971) was an English classical scholar and academic, known for his wit. He was Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, from 1938 to 1970, and served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1951 to 1954.
He was born in Jiujiang, China to English parents. His father was Cecil Arthur Verner Bowra (1869–1947) of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs. Bowra's father had been born in Ningpo, and his paternal grandfather Edward Charles Bowra had also worked for the Chinese Customs, after serving in the Ever Victorious Army under "Chinese Gordon". Soon after Bowra's birth his father was transferred to the treaty port of Newchwang, and the family lived there for the first five years of Bowra's life. During the Boxer Rebellion, in the summer of 1900, Bowra was evacuated to Japan, along with his mother, older brother Edward, and other women and children of the European community. The family returned to England in 1903, travelling via Japan and the United States, and settling in the Kent countryside. Bowra later claimed that he had been fluent in Mandarin, but forgot the language after returning to England. Bowra's parents went back to China in February 1905, leaving their children in the care of their paternal grandmother, who, having been widowed, lived with her second husband, a clergyman, in Putney. During this time the boys received tuition from Ella Dell, sister of the writer Ethel M. Dell. The boys also attended a preparatory school in Putney, where, before the year was out, Maurice was coming top in all classes but arithmetic. During his time at this school Bowra began his classical education with lessons from Cecil Botting, a master at St Paul's School and father of the writer Antonia White.
In 1909, the brothers journeyed across Europe and Russia by train to visit their parents in Mukden, where they visited the battlefield and encountered Lord Kitchener. Their return journey was made in the company of their father and took them through Hong Kong, Colombo, Suez, Naples and Algiers.
Bowra then boarded at Cheltenham College, where he began his studies in April 1910, his father returning to China a couple of weeks later. He did not enjoy such features of the school curriculum as outdoor games and OTC, but won a scholarship in the internal exams held in June 1911. It became clear that he had a particular aptitude for Classics, for which the college laid a thorough grounding in Latin and Greek. During his final two years in the sixth form Bowra, becoming bored with his school work, acquired sufficient French to read Verlaine and Baudelaire, studied a bilingual edition of the Dante's Divina Commedia and began to learn German. In 1916 he won a scholarship to New College, Oxford.
Bowra was to maintain a connection with the school in later life, being instrumental in the appointment of Cecil Day-Lewis as a master there and serving on its governing body from 1943 to 1965.