Cambridgeshire Bravery: Herbert Howard's Sacrifice

Herbert Quey Howard was born on 6 Feb 1897 at Ely, the third and eldest son of Herbert and Harriet Howard. The family lived at 6 Queen St, Station Rd, March, Cambrigeshire and Herbert worked as a gateman with the Great Eastern Railways before enlisting with the Cambridgeshire Regiment Territorial Force on 12 Jan 1914.rsz howard 2

Mobilised and posted to the 1st Bn. 13th Platoon D Company on the outbreak of war, Herbert saw action at close quarters at Dickebusch, St Eloi, Sanctuary Wood, the Festubert Line, Pont du Hem and the Schwaben Redoubt. It was whilst at St Pierre Divion on the Somme that Herbert was called to the extremes of duty. Captain Corfield set the wretched scene as the Germans took the redoubt:

'The Battalion is all to pieces; in your next draft include all possible signallers, Lewis gunners and N.C.O.s'

The Cambridgeshires and The Black Watch were primed for an attack on the 13th November. The shelling on the previous night had been heavy and a fog had crawled up from the Ancre. At 5.45am the barrage fell on the enemy and pinned them to their dig-outs. The first 250 yard advance was tentative and quiet, then with all hell let loose, the Battalion were forced to wheel suddenly to the left and advance the remainder on Serb Rd. Disorientated by fog, the two Companies lost touch, but were helped by the screening of their advance to the river. Short of officers and N.C.O.s, the Companies made the final objective by rushing and capturing machine gun posts.

It was after this action that Herbert was decorated with the Distinguished Conduct Medal:rsz howard 1

1869 Pte. H. Howard, Camb. R 'For conspicuous gallantry in action. With a few men he rushed an enemy machine gun, captured the gun and several prisoners. He set a fine example of coolness and courage.'

Herbert was promoted to Corporal and then Commissioned into the 2nd Bn. London Regiment. Regimental Histories record Herbert as an officer reinforcement joining the Battalion at Neuilly. During the Battle of Amiens, Capt. Fores and Lieut. Hyde were both badly wounded and the fighting strength of the 2/2nd Londons had been reduced to between 150 and 200 men. The enemy's fire was devastating and there was no alternative other than to dig in. Then, in a flash, the situation changed. The 2/10th Londons cleared Chipilly and began to clear out the machine gun nests on the terraces, whilst the Americans simultaneously delivered a vigorous attack on Gressaire Wood. The enemy risked being overrun and retreated.

2 officers of the 2/2nd Londons were killed; C.L. Prebble and H.Q. Howard. Herbert had been just north of Chipilly with the platoon under his command, intent on rendezvousing with two tanks. There had been confusion owing to fog and inaccurate aerial reports and the tanks never arrived. The platoon advanced alone under heavy shell fire and Herbert was killed.

A letter from the 2/2 Londons Captain to Herbert's mother describes the moment:rsz howard 3

'I am writing to inform you that your son 2/Lieut Howard was killed in action on th 8th August whilst gallantly leading his Company in the attack. His death was instantaneous by a shell bursting quite close to him and I assure you he suffered no pain whatsoever. We were all exceedingly sorry to lose such a gallant young Officer who was always looked up to by his men and of such a willing and keen disposition. Please accept the deepest sympathy of the Commanding Officer in your sad loss of a son who died gloriously.'

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