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Great-Uncle Frank Nov 11

Frank HowellsAs it’s 11/11 today, it seems fitting to recount an event that happened during the Second World War, 63 years ago yesterday. That was the day on which my great-uncle Frank Howells died.

He was born in north London on the 4th of March 1915, one of twins, the ninth child of Thomas and Emily Howells. Like his late father and his two brothers, Frank was an insurance agent. He was 24 when war broke out and became a lieutenant in the Reconnaissance Corps.

I grew up knowing the my Great-uncle Frank had died in the war, but didn’t know the details. As part of my family history research, I checked the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and was surprised to see that he was buried in Yorkshire. I obtained his death certificate which confirmed that he wasn’t killed overseas or in action. He died in the Military Hospital at Scotton and is buried in Catterick.

Inquest reports rarely survive, so the genealogist has to turn to the local press. A few years ago, I visited the public library in Darlington to search in the newspapers held there. The Northern Echo of 12th November 1943 covered the inquest.

— Catterick Inquest

At an inquest at Catterick Hospital yesterday on Lieut. Frank Howells, aged 28, who died the previous day, Dr. F.R. Eddison, the Coroner, returned a verdict of “Death by mis-adventure, he having died from a gunshot wound which caused haemorrhage and shock.”

Lieut. A. Harbottle told the Coroner that he heard a report and an exclamation from Mr. Howells. The witness saw that Howells was leaning on a table and was conscious. He did not speak. A corporal had also been wounded. A lance-corporal told him that a Bren gun had been accidentally fired during instruction. The witness thought that an inexperienced soldier could inadvertently load a live round with drill cartridge when they were of a mixed type. The rounds in use at instruction were examined at the beginning.

Capt. W. O’Brien said that Howells suffered from severe loss of blood.

L. Cp. K. Fraser, an instructor, said he himself examined the gun. He was sure that there was not a live cartridge among them. A trooper failed to do the instruction correctly and he told him to do it a second time. When he pressed the trigger he heard an explosion. Trooper G. R. Trueman said he was under instruction and could easily have recognised a live cartridge.

So it turned out to be an absurd and tragic accident that took his life. He was older than many of those who died in the two world wars, but still only a year older than I am now.

4 Responses

  1. What an interesting, if sad tale. I’m currently back into dabbling with the old family history myself, but somewhat resenting the control that Ancestry has over seemingly every record of interest. And free trial aside, I really don’t like having to give them my bank details to get it. Am I being tight at not wanting to fork out for their costs? Why no PAYG system? I would sooner pay a bit more and not feel under obligation…

  2. 2

    They have a vague PPV system where you buy 10 credits for 14 days, but it’s so expensive I’d recommend just going for a monthly UK membership (£7 I think) – that’s what I’ve current got. It’s by no means exclusive – much of the material available on Ancestry is also available on other subscriber websites.

    FreeBMD is very good (although incomplete) for searching the 19th century (and early 20th century) births, marriages and deaths for free. The 1901 census is also available via GenesReunited; the 1881 census is indexed on the Latter Day Saints’ FamilySearch website and can be searched for free.

  3. An interesting piece and poignant today.

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    Lesley Truluck 

    My mother knew Frank very well and was going out with him at the time of his death. She was very please to see this article and would welcome contact from any family members via my e-mail.