Reverend John Wesley Howells (1887 - 1917)

a Methodist minister, at Epsom 1910/1911, who went to war.

John was born on 26 October 1887, the son of William and Sarah Jane Howells, of Arch House, St. George Street, Tenby. Having been educated at Greenhill Grammar School, Tenby, he was said to have been apprenticed to the old Wesleyan School, Warren Street, then the Council School in Tenby, before obtaining a scholarship to Westminster Training College for two years. At the Westminster Training College in Horseferry Road, London, John trained to be a Methodist teacher.

From 1908 he had become a master in Seacombe, Cheshire, also, for a period of twelve months, he was employed in Sussex Street Wesleyan School, Manchester. In 1909, having been appointed to the King Edward School, Grantham, he was given the command of the Cadet Corps of the school.

The Tenby Observer, 14 July 1910, reported that Mr John Wesley Howells had successfully passed the Richmond examination as a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry [presumably at Richmond Theological College, Surrey, a Wesleyan college founded in 1843 which closed in 1972 ].

Following his ordination John was appointed to fill a vacancy in Epsom created by the departure of the elderly, supernumerary, resident minister, Rev. J. Rowland Gleave in June 1910.

In Glorious Burden, The Golden Jubilee of the Epsom Methodist Church 1914 - 1964 it was remarked: -
'A day of new hope dawned for the cause in 1910 in the appointment of the first young Minister - the Rev J. Wesley Howells, who alas, was destined to lose his life a few years later in the Royal Flying Corps. He left the mark of his dedicated vigour on the Society. Mr Barrett remembers the way the congregation increased. A Wesley Guild began, as effective in its appeal to the teenagers of England then as is MAYC nowadays. Mr Howell's v'ried talents were never better symbolised than in the vividly contrasting facts that he both regularly travelled into London at 7 in the morning to study at the British Museum - and that also he was capable of making excellent sausages for Church social occasions!'
In 1911 the Wesleyans saw the departure of their pastor - Rev. J. Wesley Howells - for Birmingham, he being succeeded by the Rev. Leonard S. Shutter.

John ended up, however, with the the Wesleyan Manchester Mission before, in May 1915, volunteering for military service. Apparently he had also become associated with Manchester University.

On 20th August, 1915, Cadet John Wesley Howells, from Manchester University Contingent, Senior Division, Officers Training Corps, was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th Lancashire Fusiliers. He served with the regiment at Gallipoli until the 1/7th Bn. moved down to 'W' Beach on 27 December 1915 for evacuation aboard the SS Ermine for Mudros and then, in mid-January 1916, to Egypt. From 22 February 1917 the 7th Lancashire Fusiliers began embarking at Alexandria for the Western Front.

Lt. Howells, however, appears to have volunteered to join the Royal Flying Corps and had been seconded to 14 Squadron, where he was known as 'the reverend', as an Observer. That Squadron operated in close support of the Army throughout the advance across the Sinai in late1916 and worked closely with XXI Corps during the battles of Gaza which raged from April to October 1917.

A BE2e, two-seat reconnaissance aircraft.
A BE2e, two-seat reconnaissance aircraft.
IWM (Q 55978)

During 1917, John had written home: - 'We don't know much about how the war is going, but we'll do our bit by doing our best'.

Captain Robert Newton Thomas and his Observer, 2nd Lieutenant John Wesley Howells, of 14 Squadron Royal Flying Corps were killed on 23 July 1917, when their BE2e No A1803 was hit by anti-aircraft fire over the south-west corner of Gaza, and crashed into the sea. Reportedly, their bodies were never recovered, and they were commemorated on the Jerusalem War Memorial. A smaller memorial, now in Beersheba War Cemetery, is said to have first been erected near an Ottoman base of [ Tel esh ] Sheria, midway between Gaza and Beersheba, staffed by German and Austrian officers. It commemorates members of No. 1 Squadron AFC and No. 14 Squadron RFC and was re-located in early 1918: an inscription at the foot of the panel reads - 'THIS MONUMENT generously erected to one of them by their enemies, was discovered and restored by their friends, January 1918'.

Beersheba Cemetery.
Beersheba War Cemetery.
Image source Library of Congress

The monument erected by German airmen at Sheria, to British pilots who had fallen in their lines perhaps suggests that the remains of Captain Robert Newton Thomas and his Observer, 2nd Lieutenant John Wesley Howells, were eventually retrieved from the sea for interment there.

A BE2e, two-seat reconnaissance aircraft.
A monument erected by German airmen at Sheria, to British pilots who have fallen in their lines. The monument records the names.
Image source Australian War Memorial

Another name on the memorial stone is that of Lieutenant Jack Stanley Brasell who was piloting the only B.E.l2a (a newly-arrived machine) in No 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, escorting a reconnaissance patrol near Tel el Sheria, when he was attacked by three Fokker scouts, shot through the head, and fell inside the enemy's lines on 25 June 1917. This would account for the original location of the monument as a grave marker in Sheria.

A War Memorial in the quadrangle of the John Owens Building, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, - Metal panels name those connected with the University who fell in the two world wars.



Royal Flying Corps 2nd Lt. J W HOWELLS

Photograph at St. John's Church War Memorials, Tenby.

Brian Bouchard © April, 2017