6210 Private George Howes, 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment – Part Two

6210 Private George Howes, 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment – Part Two

On 16th August, just three weeks after war was declared, 6210 Private George Howes, arrived in France as part of the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

He was one of several men from his village and the surrounding area in the same battalion. He may have been related to 6928 Lance Corporal Arthur Frederick Howes who was born in Mulbarton, 6 miles west of Wymondham.  Walter Starling may also have been a distant relative. (George’s father had lived with maternal grandparents and an auntie and uncle called Sarah and John Starling when he was a boy.)  Northfield neighbour George Watson Lloyd also served in the 1st Norfolk Regiment, although he didn’t arrive in France until September. He and Walter Starling were just two of the men George Howes grew up with, and fought beside, whose names were destined for the Wymondham war memorial, but George left the Western Front before either man had died. He was there for the death of another Wymondham man however, the unusually named Private Bale Race, who arrived in France with George on 16th August.  Eight days later Bale Race was dead.  He was 30, the same age as George.  They must have known each other well.  This early war casualty may have been the first of many traumatic experiences that led to George eventually becoming the “poor demented fellow” in Moss Side.

His regiment saw some of the first action of the war at the Battle of Mons in August 1914, and took heavy losses.  They were also at the first Battle of Ypres in November 1914. The 1st Norfolk War Diary entries for the start of November records the battalion as being back in billets near GORRE for a day of rest after being relieved by the 15th Sikhs; and then going “back to trenches at FESTUBERT” with the 8th Gurkhas.  On the 4th November the diary simply records:

Trouble from German bombs and mines.”

It goes on to tell us that Captain Buchanan was killed, and Lieutenants Boosey and Papworth were wounded.  The battalion then marched to Kemmel on 18th November, six miles south west of Ypres, and over the following week the diary records:

lost 20 NCOs and men killed and wounded

Only the names of those casualties who were officers rate a mention, so we can’t know for sure when or how Private George Howes was wounded. However, his medical records tell us that after surviving the harshest of winters in the trenches he was shot in the right thigh, went to No. 3 casualty Clearing Station, and was admitted to No. 2 Ambulance Train on 17th March 1915.

According to the war diary 17th March was a quiet day, the only thing of note being a visit to the camp by a General Plummer.  It seems most likely that George was wounded on the 14th March, when after an attack on the village of St Eloi, 3 miles south of Ypres, the diary tells us that “heavy shelling” of their trenches resulted in 6 killed and 19 wounded.  (The number wounded looks as if it might have been corrected upwards.) If George Howes was shot on the 14th March he was wounded three days after his namesake Arthur Frederick Howes’ death was officially recorded.  The war diary above tells us that Lieutenants Coleman and Brown were wounded on 11th March, but makes no mention of Lance Corporal Howes.  Was this an oversight? Arthur may have been transferred to another unit, or receives his wounds earlier, but only died on the 11th March.  Prior to this week the most recent 1st Norfolk Battalion casualties had been on Feb 18th when the war diary records “2 officers and 5 men killed; one officer and 9 men wounded.”

George and Arthur Howes may or may not have been cousins.  However, they were born within six miles of each other, shared the same surname, were attached to the same battalion, and arrived at the Western Front on the same day.  George was wounded just days after Arthur had died.  We can only guess at the effect these two events might have had on his mental health, added to the cumulative effect of seeing other boys he had grown up with lose their lives.  All we can say for sure is that a combination of his physical and mental suffering resulted in him being sent to Moss Side hospital.

We have no knowledge of the conversation between Fred and George, or whether that conversation caused George’s attempt to escape, but Fred certainly had bad news, which he may have shared. Between the time George was wounded in March and his brother’s visit in June, five men from the small, tight-knit community of Wymondham died on active service.  Albert Semmence and John Woodbine, attached to the 2nd Norfolk battalion with George and Fred’s younger brother Walter, died together in the same action on 14th April and were buried in Basra.  Four days later Charles High of 1st Norfolk Battalion was killed at The Battle of Hill 60 in France.  He was from Station Road, where George had lived with his sister and brother-in-law when he was seventeen.  Jack Ollett and Sidney Thurston died in May and were buried in France and Belgium respectively.

We may never know if this information caused George Howes to lose the will to live when he threw himself into the Leeds-Liverpool canal at the bridge by the Horse and Jockey, or if he just trying to escape and return home.

He was finally deemed unfit for service and discharged from the army on 7th February 1916.

Ten months later his youngest brother Walter died in what we now call Iraq.  He was buried in Baghdad.  The family will have received the news just before Christmas.  The following April Private Ambrose Howes, another Northfield neighbour and possible relative was killed in action and buried in France. Four of the 143 fatalities listed on the Wymondham village World War 1 memorial are in tribute to men named Howes: Ambrose, Harcourt, Harry, and Walter. Including Mulbarton-born Arthur at least five men called Howes, all born within a few miles of each other, lost their lives in the war. We don’t know how long George Howes survived after he left the army.  There is no record of him marrying and it’s hard to say with any certainty when or where he died. It’s impossible to know if this man once described as a “partly demented poor fellow” ever fully recovered from his traumatic war time experiences.

Written by John Fay

Edited by Amy Walling, Manchester Metropolitan University

Posted on 24 August 2018 under Moss Side Military Hospital

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