Over the past week, we have been very proud to receive donations of items relating to two members of the regiment who served during the First World War.
Ruth Kendon visited us carrying a suitcase full of photographs, letters, kit and literature relating to Captain Reginald Mowling Howes MC of the 4th Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment. Earlier in the week, we’d spent time with Robert Amis, who’d brought us material belonging to his grandfather, Captain Henry Amis.
Ruth is Captain Howes’ daughter, and we spent an absorbing and emotional morning with her and her husband Jim looking through the items. Some of them Ruth decided she couldn’t part with, but much of the collection has now been taken into the keeping of the museum, to be catalogued and used in further study and future exhibitions. Particularly gripping is his account of the German offensive of 1918 and his capture. His compass is still in full working order, but we haven’t tested the biscuit which was given to Prisoners of War, which Captain Howes saved for posterity…
Reginald Howes (1889-1977) attended the University of London Officer Training Corps (OTC) between 6 May 1915 and 20 July 1916 before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Yorkshire Regiment on 21 July 1916.
He served with the 4th Battalion as temporary Adjutant and Intelligence Officer, and was wounded on 15 September 1916 at Kemmel, just south of Ypres. Ruth remembers him saying he was wounded on the day tanks were first used.
Howes was awarded the Military Cross in March 1918, for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” on the Somme, during the Kaiserschlacht offensive and promoted to Captain the following month. He was taken prisoner on 27 May 1918 and released on 14 December 1918.
The donation comprises a wealth of personal material, including letters and accounts of his service.
“Having grown up in a chapel-going family – his father was a Baptist minister and there was much talk of ‘being saved’ – and where his social life revolved around church friends, I think his faith was severely shaken by his experiences in the trenches, and he stopped going to church unless there was a special event or a particular preacher who interested him,” says Ruth. “He had told my mother that, while continuing to believe in Christian principles, he had questioned how there could be a god who allowed such slaughter to happen.
“He, like many others, must have found it extremely difficult, on returning to civvy street, to be amongst people who had no concept of what he and his fellows had experienced. In addition, not long after his return, his mother died. Some of their correspondence is now in the museum’s collection, and he was clearly devoted to her. After that, he broke off contact with many of his relatives and former friends and led quite a solitary life apart from his work. It wasn’t until 1939 that he married my mother.
“My father hardly ever spoke about his wartime experiences. He almost certainly did not want to think about that time, but I did hear him mention the mud and the rats. For example, if someone had in their pocket some chocolate sent from home in a food parcel, they would feel a rat scrabbling at them in the night, trying to get at it.
“Although my father hardly ever spoke of his time in action, he never threw anything away and kept his uniform, letters, documents and other memorabilia – much of which I have now passed to the museum. He also wrote to several of his old Army associates on occasions, following their fortunes with interest,and he saved newspaper cuttings about the Green Howards. Apart from the horrors of war, he was proud to be a member of the Regiment, and his experiences broadened his horizons, stimulating an interest in travel and adventure.
“His career either side of the war was in the Civil Service, where he was a ‘Clerical Officer’, and for most of the time he worked at the Board of Education, in particular organising holiday courses for teachers. He loved this work. He was thorough and meticulous and it absolutely suited him and brought him into contact with many interesting people, including, eventually, my mother, from other walks of life. His great interest outside work was folk dancing, just at the time when English folk music was being ‘discovered’ by the likes of Cecil Sharpe and Vaughan Williams.
“With hindsight, I feel certain that my father’s wartime experiences did have a profound effect on him: judging by old correspondence – nothing was thrown away! He changed from being a lighthearted young man, one of a crowd of friends, to becoming much more serious, reflective, self-contained, and rather solitary. He was extremely independent-minded and never followed a trend, probably appearing awkward or eccentric!
“My Dad hated to see violence used as any form of entertainment in films or books and said he had seen enough violence to last a lifetime. Post traumatic stress was not known or understood in those days, but I think it would account for his occasional sudden mood-swings or unexpected outbreaks of annoyance. Meticulous and thorough himself, he was infuriated by inefficiency or anything slapdash and did not hesitate to say so. His military experience must have had some influence here. He held very strong views and equally strong likes and dislikes – of people, places and things in general. Hugely loyal, he was devoted to those he was fond of, but did not disguise his feelings if displeased
When he died, an old friend wrote of him ‘he never let you down, and woe betide those who did’.
He did however have a great sense of humour and my mother influenced him into laughing at himself on occasions, and his own eccentricities!”
Ruth says it is the centenary commemorations which prompted her into donating much of her father’s memorabilia to our museum.
“I knew the Imperial War Museum was aiming to collect information about all those who served in the Great War, and my family and I had tried, only with partial success, to send them Dad’s information online. I was particularly anxious that my father’s wartime contribution should not go unrecorded, so I am most grateful The Green Howards Museum is happy to take charge of his assorted memorabilia. He too would have been delighted that his wartime belongings have gone to the right home. He was very fond of Richmond and was proud of his association with the Green Howards.”