b. 19/11/1893 Enfield, New South Wales. d. 23/12/1964 Perth, Australia.
George Julian Howell (1893-1964), known as “Snowy” because of his blue eyes and blond hair, was born on 19th November 1893 at Enfield, New South Wales, Australia. His father, Francis “Frank” Howell, was originally from Brighton, England, and was a carpenter and had emigrated with his parents in 1874. Frank did serve in World War I but was discharged due to lying about his age. Frank had married George’s mother, Martha nee Sweeny in 1881 in Sydney, and he had seven siblings. One of his brothers, Valentine, was killed in action on 31st May 1918 in France.
He was educated at Croydon Park Public School, Sydney and Burwood Public School, Sydney. He became a bricklayer and builder after completing an apprenticeship at Campsie, near Enfield, where he played rugby for Enfield Federals Club. He enlisted in Sydney on 3rd June 1915 and was posted to Liverpool, near Sydney, from where he embarked for the Middle East with 7th Reinforcement Group for 1st Battalion on HMAT A67 Orsova on 14th July. He served with 1st Battalion at Gallipoli from 1st November until returning to Alexandria aboard SS Huntsgreen and onto Tel-el-Kebir on 28th December. He was charged with being AWOL from 8th-12th January 1916 and was awarded seven days Field Punishment No 2 and forfeited five days’ pay.
He left Egypt for Marseilles, France on HMT Invernia on 22nd March 1916 and attended a course at the Trench Mortar School, Wallon-Cappel near Hazebrouck from 5th-11th April. Snowy was again absent without leave on 18th May and was wounded by a gunshot to the back at Pozieres on 22nd July. Having been evacuated to No 44 Casualty Clearing Station on 23rd July, he was transferred to 27th Ambulance Train next day and was evacuated to England via Le Havre. He returned to France on 11th November, and was promoted to Lance Corporal, and was posted to the Divisional School of Instruction between December 1916 and January 1917. He was then promoted to Corporal.
He was awarded the Military Medal for his actions at Demicourt on 9th April when he led his rifle bombing section in an attack. His section was held up on several occasions by machine gun fire, and on each occasion he adopted sound offensive tactics and good use of his weapons and continued to advance. A little under a month later, he would be awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Bullecourt on 6th May.
Seeing a party of the enemy were likely to outflank his Battalion, Cpl. Howell, on his own initiative, single-handed and exposed to heavy bomb and rifle fire, climbed on to the top of the parapet and proceeded to bomb the enemy, pressing them back along the trench. Having exhausted his stock of bombs, he continued to attack the enemy with his bayonet. He was then severely wounded. The prompt action and gallant conduct of this N C.O. in the face of superior numbers was witnessed by the whole Battalion and greatly inspired them in the subsequent successful counter attack.
The VC and MM was presented to Snowy by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917. Snowy’s father had obtained leave to travel to the investiture but was refused admittance to the buffet lunch. He was granted leave, and left for Australia on HMAT A35 Berrina on 31st October. He arrived in Melbourne on 30th December and was discharged on 5th June 1918 in Sydney. He married Sarah “Sadie” Lilian Yates, a nurse, at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney on 1st March 1919. They had a daughter, Norma, who was their only child.
Postwar, Snowy became a journalist, working on the advertising staff at Smith’s Newspapers and later at the Bulletin Newspaper Pty Ltd. By 1933 he was the New South Wales representative for the Brisbane Daily Standard and The Worker. He attended an ANZAC Dinner in 1927, attended by 23 VCs, and also attended the first AIF Re-Union Dinner in Sydney Town Hall on 8th August 1928. He attended with seven other VCs. In November 1929, he was initiated into Freemasonry, in Coogee Lodge No 322.
He re-enlisted at Paddington, New South Wales on 14th October 1939, and was appointed orderly room sergeant of 2nd Garrison Battalion on 23rd October. He was affected by an old bayonet wound and was discharged on 17th December. He re-enlisted on 25th June 1940, understating his age by 3 years. He was posted to Headquarters Eastern Command and promoted Corporal on 16th October. He later joined the United States Army Services of Supply as a deckhand on 5th September 1944.
Snowy attended the funerals of William Currey VC in Sydney in 1948 and Thomas Bede Kenny VC in Waverley in 1953. After his wife died in 1953, he lived with his daughter at Applecross, Perth, Western Australia, but about 1960 went to Gunyidi, Western Australia, a rail siding with a small population. He assisted in the woolsheds by cooking, sweeping and general odd jobs. The isolation was not to his liking and he often travelled to Perth before moving back there in 1962. He had attended the VC Centenary Celebrations in Hyde Park on 26th June 1956, travelling with fellow Australian VCs.
He died at the Repatriation Hospital, Hollywood, Perth, Western Australia on 23rd December 1964 and was cremated at Karrakatta Crematorium on 29th December. A commemorative plaque was placed on the Western Australian Garden of Remembrance Memorial Wall. In addition to the VC and MM he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, War Medal 1939-45, Pacific Star, Australia Service Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, US Merchant Marine Pacific War Zone Medal 1941-45. His daughter, Norma, sold the VC group (less the War Medal and Australia Service Medal, which were retained by another family member) in 1982 through Spinks’ Australian representative Edward Joslin for A$14,000. The group was purchased by John Meyers, owner of the Maryborough Miliitary and Colonial Museum. He sold the group for A$600,000 in the Noble Numismatics auction on 8th April 2011 at Hotel InterContinental, Sydney. The buyer was media mogul Kerry Stokes, who presented them to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA.
BURIAL PLACE: KARRAKATTA CEMETERY, PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA. ASHES SCATTERED.
Richard Yielding – Plaque at Karrakatta Crematorium, Perth.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the Howell VC Medal Group at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.