Brothers in service

The volunteers working on our soldier portrait ‘Discovering Anzacs’ project often come across stories that speak volumes about the loss so many Queenslanders experienced during the First World War. Glen Phillips has been a back of house volunteer at SLQ for 2 years and in his meticulous work recently came across this story of a tragic coincidence.

Brothers Edgar, 25, and Edwin, 24, Howell enlisted exactly month apart in 1915, and were both assigned to the 10th Reinforcements of the 25th Battalion.

Left: Edgar Stanley Howell, p.23 of The Queenslander, 30 October, 1915. Right: Edwin Guy Howell, p.26 of The Queenslander, 6 May 1916.

Left: Edgar Stanley Howell, p.23 of The Queenslander, 30 October, 1915. Right: Edwin Guy Howell, p.26 of The Queenslander, 6 May 1916.

Edwin Guy Howell was reported killed in action on 5th August 1916 at Pozieres, France, on the Western Front. A year later his sister in law published an In Memorium notice in The Queenslander on 11th August, 1917:

Roll of Honour

HOWELL:- In loving memory of Private Edwin Guy Howell, who was killed in action at Pozieres, August 5th, 1916, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Howell, Bristol, England, and only brother of Edgar Stanley Howell (missing since August 5th, 1916).

"Peace, perfect Peace"

Inserted by his loving sister-in-law, Mrs E.S. Howell, New Farm.

Looking through older brother Edgar's service record held by National Archives Australia, on page 22 there is a letter from his wife Florence to the A.I.F, dated 13th August 1917, in which she writes,

"On Saturday I received the official news that my husband 4139 Pte Edgar Stanley Howell, 10th of 25th Battalion, had been killed in action of Aug 5th, 1916, previously reported missing."

In August 1917, the 11th was a Saturday. It seems that she received the official news about her husband on the very day her notice regarding Edwin was published in the newspaper.

The bodies of both brothers were recovered from the battlefield of Pozieres in 1937 and reburied in a cemetery, a row apart, in Longueval, France. Edgar's service record also has official letters from the Imperial War Graves Commission, concerning returning to his widow a silver match box that was found with his remains. The macabre nature of this memento reminds us that as we seek to find and share these stories, we must consider the thousands of Queenslanders who lived them.

London Cemetery and Extension at High Wood,Longueval, France. Resting place of the Howell brothers. Photo taken by Glen Phillips, 27 June, 2013.

London Cemetery and Extension at High Wood,
Longueval, France. Resting place of the Howell brothers. Photo taken by Glen Phillips, 27 June, 2013.

Glen’s other work at SLQ revealed another pair of brothers who died on the same day. Francis and Keith Viles, from Croyden in Far North Queensland, were both killed in action at the Battle of Messines in France, on 7 June 1917.

The brothers appear in the publication Queenslanders who fought in the Great War, which is held by the National Library of Australia. The digitised photos of the 2,400 Queenslanders who appear in this book, including the Viles brothers, will soon be available on One Search, SLQ’s online catalogue.

Brothers Francis Watts Viles (left) and Keith McLean Viles (right) as featured on p.252 of Queenslanders who fought in the Great War by Owen Wildman, 1919.

Brothers Francis Watts Viles (left) and Keith McLean Viles (right) as featured on p.252 of Queenslanders who fought in the Great War by Owen Wildman, 1919.

We have another a picture of Keith in the collection, to go alongside his military portrait. In it he is a teenager posing for a photo as a member of a boys’ choir in Croydon, taken at Easter 1912, when the horrors of the First World War that was coming could not have been imagined.

Boy's choir from St. Margaret's Church of England, Croydon, Easter 1912. Keith Viles is seated third from the left. Taken by A Chargois.

Boy's choir from St. Margaret's Church of England, Croydon, Easter 1912. Keith Viles is seated third from the left. Taken by A Chargois.

Written by Jacinta Sutton, QANZAC Project Officer, and Glen Phillips.

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