This is one of four stories about sibling members of a Howes family, compiled and contributed to www.howesfamilies.com by John Howes, the grandson of one of them. The four siblings, all of whom had their lives profoundly affected by the war are (Peter) Frank Howes, Leonard William Howes, Cyril Frank Howes and Eleanor Margaret Howes. (Clicking on the names will take you to their stories).
The following notes were written by his son, Allan Howes.
“1914 war broke out and he (Frank) signed up immediately (aged 21) off he went, soon to be in France. Being wounded in his left arm did not deter him (there is a photo of him wounded in the arm taken at a hospital in Oxford, so presumably he came back to England, recovered and then returned to the front line) and he went back to the trenches. He was wounded again with shrapnel in his head, and lay for 2-3 days in a shell hole at the battle of Ypres. He never spoke much of his ordeal but was discharged from the army in 1917 on full disability pension”.
In his own words Frank wrote the following in a note book: ‘3 times wounded, 3 ½ years in the army, discharged mentally unfit for service’. So was he wounded two or three times? It was this brief note showing he was in the Kings Royal Rifle Brigade which allowed me to track his service record.
Around 1926 Frank tried to commit suicide, his son Allan recalled Frank being brought home, laid on the hearth on a pegged rug in front of the fire, bandage wrapped around his head, blood coming through the bandage. He went into Leeds infirmary to have shrapnel removed from his head, knowing his survival chance was not good. It was pressing onto his brain and so had to be dealt with, there was no alternative, even though, he was lucky to survive. In those days this meant lifting off the top of his scalp, removing the shrapnel and then stitching his scalp back down. He survived and came home with the shrapnel, which was kept in the family china cabinet. He would rarely talk about the war. When asleep his left eye was always wide open, it never closed.
WWI must have been a traumatic time for Frank, as for many others. Frank was wounded at Laventie (which is south of Armentières in French Flanders). The British Army was in battles there in 1915 and when he said he was wounded, presumably this was the arm wound. He was also wounded at Ypres on June 1st 1916.
Based on this and some research I have undertaken here is a possible journey for Frank and his wartime experience. There was little personal comment from Frank, just the brief note above and a few photos. The only comment I recall is him telling me was that he was once in trouble for losing his rifle!!
His brief note above allowed me to track his actual record below, now available on line. This shows that he joined the Kings Royal Rifles on 31 August 1914, to be discharged 13 December 1917, thanks to his wounds. The war began on 28 July 1914, within one month of the outbreak he had enlisted. At the time he was working as a railway porter in Pleasley, Derbyshire.
The document above lists those who were awarded the Silver War Badge. This was issued on 12th September 1916.
The badge was originally issued to officers and men who were discharged or retired from the military forces as a result of sickness or injury caused by their war service. This included Frank.
Around the rim of the badge was inscribed “For King and Empire; Services Rendered”. It became known for this reason also as the “Services Rendered Badge”. Each badge was also engraved with a unique number on the reverse, although this number is not related to the recipient’s Service Number.
The recipient would also receive a certificate with the badge. The badge was made of Sterling silver and was intended to be worn on the right breast of a recipient’s civilian clothing. It could not be worn on a military uniform. There were about 1,150,000 Silver War Badges issued in total for First World War service. Frank’s is not around.
The medal card on the right shows that Frank entered the theatre of war on 23 -7-1915, so this is a definite date for his arrival in France. The (1) is the code given to the France & Flanders battle theatre for British campaign medals. This was where he was first wounded just two months after his arrival.
That entry to France in 1915 qualified him to receive the 1915 Star, as well as the British War Medal and Victory Medal. The same medals as listed for brother Cyril later on. The medal card also states that he was discharged, and the SWB is for the Silver War Badge, as identified above.
Evidently his number R353 was unusual to be only three digits long.
Frank’s entry to France may point to the battalion he was serving with. His Service Record or Pension Record cannot be located, so we may have to presume that it was lost in the WW2 bomb damage.
Without knowing his battalion it is difficult to be sure exactly where he served. However given his enlistment date, and arrival in France it is probable that he was in one of these two battalions. He is back row second from the right.
11th (Service) Battalion KRRC
Formed at Winchester in September 1914 as part of K2 and came under orders of 59th Brigade in 20th (Light) Division. Moved to Blackdown, going on in February 1915 to Witley and then in April to Larkhill.
21 July 1915: landed at Boulogne.
12th (Service) Battalion KRRC
Formed at Winchester on 21 September 1914 as part of K2 and came under orders of 60th Brigade in 20th (Light) Division. Moved to Bisley, going on in November 1914 to Blackdown and February 1915 to billets in Hindhead. Moved to Larkhill on 10 April 1915.
22 July 1915: landed at Boulogne.
The 12th Battalion was at Laventie in September 2015 (where he was wounded). It is possible that the battalion was there after it had first arrived in France to train up for trench warfare in the sector east of St. Omer.
There is a postcard in an autograph book of his sister Ella’s which states ‘myself wounded at Ingham Hospital summer 1915’. There is a group of soldiers and nurses, one of whom looks like might be Frank. None of them look seriously wounded. Was this after Laventie?
Battle of Loos, 25th September 1915
The date of 25th September 1915 was the launch of the major British offensive for the Battle of Loos with the first use of gas clouds by the British Army. 12th Battalion KRRC was listed in the Order of Battle in 20th (Light) Division, 60th Brigade, for the battle, but as a division the 20th did not take part in the main battle. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of KRRC did take part in the main battle, so there may be a chance that Frank was in it, but without a Service Record we won’t know that.
Battle of Mount Sorrel, 2nd July 1916
This gives a brief history of the battalion movements and states that 12th Battalion was involved in the Battle of Mount Sorrel at Ypres on 1st-2nd June 1916. Frank was wounded at Ypres and he states June 1st, so this would tie in as well.
Companies of 12th Battalion KRRC were loaned from 60th Brigade to the 7th Canadian Brigade for the Battle of Mount Sorrel. This battle was to take the high ground south-east of Ypres from the Germans. It was June 2-14 1916.
Again there are postcards showing him in a group (this time he does identify himself) and with an arm wound. The photo was taken by an Oxford studio. The postmark is hard to read, but looks like Oct 1916. So could this be recovery from the second wound at Ypres.
So where does that leave the third wound, which would have been the head wound and the reason for his discharge from the army in 1917. He did not list it, the dates for Somme do not tie in.
Battle of the Somme, 1916
After this period of time in Ypres the battalion moved to the Somme battlefield and was involved in actions in August, September and October. The September battle was the famous battle of Fleurs-Courcelette and the first use of tanks in battle by the British Army.
One final intriguing comment on his war time experience was a short surviving letter written by brother Cyril on June 22 1970, by chance the day before Frank died. Cyril says ‘very very sorry, again very sorry your army disability has caused all this hassle, and I do hope you will get along again’. Just what did he mean, given also that Cyril was not always of sound mind?