Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1918, Private Arthur Harvey Howes, 1st Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment, was killed in action during the fighting near the Nieppe forest, at Merville near Armentieres in France.
Private Howes’ mother died when he was ten years old, so he was raised by his grandparents, Ellen and George Howes. After leaving school he worked at the Cheltenham railway station. At the outbreak of the Great War he enlisted with the line cavalry regiment, the 20th Hussars, and arrived in France on the 18th of August.
A few days after landing members of the regiment got into a skirmish with some enemy cavalry and saw them off, having captured three horses. The following day, before the Battle of Mons, the British cavalry were in position on the front lines where they were viewed by a French officer being escorted by then-General Spears. He was impressed: “Really splendid, perfectly turned out, shining leather, flashing metal, beautiful horses, and the men absolutely unconcerned, disdaining to show the least surprise at or even interest in their strange surroundings”.
Later that year, after the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne, they suffered heavy casualties during the First Battle of Ypres. Private Howes saw action in 1917 during the Battle of Arras, and it seems likely that he was wounded and sent home to recuperate. Before returning to the front he told his grandmother that he did not have a good feeling about going back to France.
On his return in early October he was compulsorily transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, and saw action at Passchendale – where his battalion suffered over three hundred casualties during the attack on Polderhoek. In November he was sent to Italy, where his battalion held the line near Vicenza and served on the Piave front. When the German Spring Offensive began in March of the following year, he returned to the Western Front.
Private Howe’s battalion held a salient near the Nieppe forest and were successful in defending their position against enemy attacks. The Germans were using gas, described by a British officer as “a cowardly form of warfare”, and the British troops were prepared - gas alert gongs were sounded, and masks had been issued along with instructions about moving and talking as little as possible, not going into trenches or dugouts, and look out for those who were wounded or whose masks were damaged.
On the first day of May, during the fighting near the Nieppe forest, two days after the German High Command had called off the Spring Offensive, Private Howes was mortally wounded. He lies buried in the Morbecque British Cemetery in France – on his headstone are the words, “Not lost but gone before”. He is remembered on the Men of Cheltenham memorial.
Arthur, from Cheltenham, was 29 years old.