Private 80191 George Henry Howells

Howells George 96 406x600
Apologies, I have mislaid the name of the person who gave me this photo. Contact me for acknowledgement.

Killed in Action on Tuesday, 9th April 1918, age 19.
Commemorated on Panel 8 and 9 of Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.

1st/8th Bn., Durham Light Infantry. 151st Brigade of 50th Division.

Son of George and Mary Howells, of 34, Coppice St., Tipton, Staffs.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Lichfield, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, 3rd April 1918.
Medal entitlement: British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives survived and transcribed.

Commemorated on the Tipton Library Memorial.
Commemorated here because he appears on a Tipton memorial.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/871487/

Genealogical Data

Birth of George Howells registered March quarter 1899 in Dudley.

1901 Census
52 Coppice Street, Tipton, Staffs.
George Howells (32, Furnace Labourer, born West Bromwich), his wife Mary (30, born Tipton), and their 3 children: Isabella (6, born Tipton), Francis (4, born Tipton), and George (2, born Tipton).

1911 Census
60 Coppice Street, Tipton, Staffs.
George Howells (40, Labourer, born Tipton), his wife Mary (40, born Tipton), and their 8 surviving children of 10: Isabella (16, born Tipton), Frank (14, Bricklayer, born Tipton), George (12, School, born Tipton), Gladys (10, School, born Tipton), Lily (7, born Tipton), John (5, born Tipton), Eliza (3, born Tipton), and Sam (1, born Tipton).

Personal Data

"Soldiers Died in the Great War" shows George as born in Wolverhampton, and resident in Coseley. This was due to errors in his enlistment papers as he was born and resident in Tipton. On the 1901 and 1911 Census he is recorded as born in Tipton, and his parents were still living in Coppice Street around 1920.

George was called up on 15th February 1917, enlisting at Tipton. He was 18 years and 62 days old (born 17th December 1898), and physically small at 5 feet 2½ inches tall with a 34½ inch chest. His physical development was rated as “good” despite weighing just 100 pounds. He was employed as a Labourer, and his religion was noted as Church of England.

For training, he was posted to the 86th Training Reserve Battalion at Hornsea on 20th February 1917, then to the 273rd Infantry Battalion at Chelmsford, and finally to the 52nd (Graduated) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry on 1st November 1917. In December 1917 George was given leave which he overstayed. He was put on a charge for his absence from midnight on 19th December until 10pm on 21th December, he was fined 6 days pay, and confined to barracks for 7 days. Just a week later, on 29th December 1917, George was admitted to hospital in Chelmsford suffering from scabies. It was 19 days later, on 16th January 1918, before he could rejoin his unit.

With his training completed, on the 5th February 1918 George was posted to the 3rd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, awaiting overseas posting. The 3rd Battalion were part of the home defence Tyne Garrison, based in South Shields.

Heavy losses had been suffered in the opening days of the German Spring Offensive in late March 1918. This resulted in many 18 and 19-year olds who had been called up in 1917 moving to France as reinforcements. George landed in France on 3rd April 1918.

George's mother was paid a weekly 'Seperation Allowance' of 10 shillings and 8 pence, this was continued until 4th November 1918. After George's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £4/14/10d (4 pounds, 14 shillings and 10 pence), this was paid to his father, George H., in September 1919. His War Gratuity was £4/0/0d (4 pounds exactly), this was also paid to his father in November 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that George had enlisted in February 1917.

Action resulting in his death

The 1/8th Durham Light Infantry (DLI) belonged to the 50th Division which had lost heavily during the German Spring Offensive, and at the beginning of April it was withdrawn to Mont-Bernanchon, near Béthune, to re-equip and reorganise. Their War Diary reports 160 Other Ranks joining on 5th April, and another 105 joining on 6th April – it is almost certain that George was amongst them.

On 7th April they received orders to entrain for Neuf Berquin; they were in billets in Neuf Berquin when the Battle of the Lys began on 9th April 1918. Their division (50th) was in reserve and under orders to move forward to cover the Lys and Lawe crossings in the vicinity of Estaires should the enemy attack.

At 8am the battalion was ordered to Lestrem on the River Lawe, it came under shell fire but arrived at its position by 9.30am. The Portuguese 2nd Division holding the front line ahead of them was in the process of being destroyed and German infantry was now reaching the line of posts that acted as the second main line of defence. The 1/8th DLI was now ordered to the area of Pont Riqueul and the posts at nearby Le Marais. German pressure during the day was relentless and by evening they had forced a crossing of the Lawe in the area held by the battalion, over the Rault Lock. The situation during the night is very obscure but it appears that a counter attack drove the Germans back over the lock.

George Howells was one of the 20 men of the 1/8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, killed on the 9th April. Like the majority of the 20 men, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial. It seems that after a year in training, George had been in France for just 7 days and was killed on the first day he went into action.

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