Lest we forget

April 25, 2015 at 11:59 am

When I was twenty I had just started a full time job, had a good circle of friends and was enjoying discovering life through various hobbies and pursuits.

Joseph Howes Jr-edited

Pte Joseph Charles Howes

When my Great Uncle Joseph was twenty he was sitting in a boat in the dark with the 9th Battalion, sailing towards the coast of Turkey. He probably watched the sun rise while ducking for cover from fire from the Turkish forces as he climbed the cliffs at what is now known as Anzac Cove.

He would not live to see the sun set.

Yes, my uncle holds the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first ANZACs killed at Gallipoli. Although that fact carries with it a certain amount of pride, I’m sure he would have preferred life over death, no matter how noble it was.

The loss of his life is made more poignant because he had no family of his own – no wife to mourn him and no children or grandchildren to bear his name. So as we approach the 100th anniversary of his death, I felt compelled to tell the world what they lost when Joseph Howes died, along with so many of his mates.

Joseph Charles Howes was born 1895 in Mt Morgan, a town about a half hour’s drive from Rockhampton. He was the second son and fifth child of Joseph and Mary Jane Howes. They had come to Australia from Staffordshire in England in the 1880s. Joseph Senior was a coal miner by trade, although young Joseph doesn’t seem to have followed his father into that profession. His enlistment papers declare he was a plumber. He had some good mates and would often have them around for a sing along while my grandmother, his younger sister, played the piano for them.

He volunteered for service on 14th September 1914 at the age of nineteen. While he may have enlisted with some of his mates it seems that his older brother, William, did not enlist with him.

Lynne-Claire-ANZAC Mt Morgan-9

Me with my mother, Claire. She is Joseph’s niece.

He embarked from Melbourne on the Themistocles on 22nd December 1914, bound for Egypt and his training as a soldier. He probably engaged in training with enthusiasm and excitement. I wonder if he ever suspected that he only had a few months to live. Given what they were training for, it probably crossed his mind, but how seriously? When you’re twenty years old, even if you are training for war, do you ever really consider the possibility of death?

Having trained with the rest of his battalion, he shipped out, ready to land with the others on 25th April 1915. Reports say he landed on the beach safely but was later seen wounded, having been hit in the head by a shell, and then was seen dead about a mile inland. That was the last report of him. Even the place where he is buried is unknown, lost in a sea of hastily dug and unmarked graves.

The saddest part about his loss is the fact that no one seems to remember him. I would never have known about him if my mother hadn’t shown me his photo and told me that he was my grandmother’s favourite brother. His name seems to be lost in the passage of time.

I wrote this article because I didn’t want him to be lost anymore. His legacy should be remembered, along with the scores of others who died for our freedom, giving up the future we all take for granted.

In memory of Private Joseph Charles Howes, 9th battalion, who died on Anzac Day in 1915 at the age of twenty.

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