Short of Sight, not of Courage

My great uncle, Reginald Frank Howship, died long before I was born, and by the time I heard of him there was no one left in my family who remembered him. Fortunately, his surviving Army records are extensive. He was born in Wallington, Surrey, 5 September 1897, the son of Frank and Fanny Howship and educated at Wallington College. A bank clerk, he attested 9 December 1915 for Queen Victoria’s Rifles and was mobilised 18 May 1916. Arriving in France 24 October 1916, where he was to serve for 12 months, he was soon transferred to 13th Royal Irish Rifles in the Ulster Division. At his second attempt, he was accepted for officer training. His eyesight was a problem – according to his Army records it was 6/60 without glasses, meaning he could only see at 6 feet what someone with normal eyesight could see at 60 feet!

Reg did well with his officer cadet battalion and was given a Territorial commission in the East Surrey Regiment 29 May 1918. He arrived with 12th East Surreys 20 August 1918. The battalion saw hard fighting and heavy casualties in the final advance of the war. At Knohowskke, 22 October 1918, Reg, although a very junior officer, distinguished himself, according to the citation for his Military Cross, leading his company under heavy fire and carrying out a daring reconnaissance. ‘His fearless and cool leadership was a great inspiration to the company.’ He later served in the Rhineland with 9th East Surreys, and was promoted to Lieutenant.

Although ‘A1’ (the top British Army medical grade for physical and mental health), when discharged 17 September 1919, within months he was being treated for tuberculosis (T.B.). His wife, Jessie Palmer, was a nurse also suffering from T.B. They married in 1923 and lived in Sussex. Reg died of T.B., aged just 29, 31 January 1927.

Sources – 1901 census, Reg’s WO374 and Jessie’s PIN 26 files at TNA, battalion war diaries, London Gazette, marriage and death certificates.


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