Private Robert Leonard HOW(E)

Canadian Infantry
5th Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion
(Quebec Regiment)
Service Number:
Date of Death:
21 September 1916 - Died of wounds
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
XVI. A. 2.

Personal History:
Robert was born on the 2nd February 1892, the son of John (Limestone Quarryman) and Priscilla (née Booth) Howe of Higher Bibbington. Wormhill, Derbyshire. (1901 Census RG 13/3273)

He had an older sister, Annie, two older brothers, John Joseph and Robert Frederick, and four younger brothers, Thomas William, Abel Lomas, Ernest Henry and Charles Edward. He was working as a "Limestone Quarryman", living at Upper End, Peak Dale, Derbyshire. (1911 Census RG 14/21264)

In 1914 Robert sailed from Liverpool to Montreal, Quebec, Canada aboard "The Victorian", to settle in Windsor, Ontario, with his stated occupation as "Farm labourer". He arrived on the 8th May.  At the time of his enlistment in July 1915 Robert was 5 ft. 5¾ ins (1.67 m.) tall, had a "fair" complexion, brown eyes and 'medium' (!) hair.

He was described (Buxton Advertiser) as a " ..  bright young man of a kind and obliging disposition, and ever ready to give a helping hand in any good cause. From a boy he was connected with the Upper End Primitive Methodist Chapel and a member of the Independent Order of Rechabities for several years.  ……

He has two brothers in the Army, one having been in trenches for twelve months and it is hoped they may return safe and sound."
(See: Footnote below)

Military History:
Robert attested into The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifle Battalion on the 27th October 1915 at London, Ontario. The Battalion was organized initially as a regiment in November 1914 under authorization published in General Order 36 of 15th March 1915. The regiment was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel G.H. Baker. It was mobilized in Sherbrooke and recruited in the Eastern Townships.

The regiment embarked at Quebec on the 18th July 1915 aboard the Hesperian, disembarking in England on the 27th July 1915. Its strength was 35 officers and 601 other ranks. The regiment arrived in France on the 24th October 1915, becoming part of the 2nd Brigade, Canadian Mounted Rifles. Its designation was changed from a regiment to a battalion on the formation of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade on the 1st January 1916. 'The Buxton Advertiser' reported that Robert had arrived in England to join his Battalion on 5th May 1916 and spent 5 weeks training at Shorncliffe ".. but never had the pleasure of visiting his parents and old home".

The Battalion's first Battle Honour on arrival was The Battle of Mount Sorrel, (2nd - 13th June 1916) and on the opening day of the battle the 5th battalion lost 54 men killed in action, most of whom are commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, including their C.O. Lt. Col. George Harold BAKER.

An account of the day reads: "At just after 1pm, the German pioneers blew a small number of mines just short of the now-obliterated British fire trench at Mount Sorrel. .... By an hour after the enemy infantry attack had begun, reserve units were arriving in the area: 2nd and 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles of 8th Brigade and 42nd Battalion of 7th Brigade. It was clear that this was too small a force to mount a successful counter attack, so orders were given for these units to form a defensive line, using the best communication trenches and other features they could find."

The War Diary shows Robert's Battalion in trenches in Maplecopse, Zillebeke Dugouts and Transport Farm. It goes on for the 2nd June:

"Morning broke bright and clear with slight NW wind.
A red letter day in the history of the Battalion, ever to be remembered by those who lived through it. In the early morning enemy sprang a mine in the part of the line held by the C.M.R. 4th Battalion and began a bombardment of the Brigade area …:-
The Battalion went into the line on the night of 31st May/ 1st June occupying a position in Brigade support at MAPLECOPSE.
    Disposition.      'C' Coy    3.Ps.
                            'A' Coy and 2 Platoons off 'B' Coy MAPLECOPSE
                           'D' Coy    Dugouts at ZILLEBEKE BUND
                          'B' Coy    2 Platoons and Lewis Gun. Detachment TRANSPORT FARM.
Orders To maintain Support Line and in event of attack to "stand to" and await orders from Brigade.
Nothing of important occurred until the morning of 2nd June when at about 8.30 a.m. enemy began a very heavy bombardment of the front line and all the ground in MAPLECOPSE and vicinity. The men were kept under cover as much as possible and at 9.15 a.m. the following message was brought by two runners of the 4th CMR Battalion which was occupying the front line trenches: 'Our wires are cut, please have Corps Artillery turned on.'"

Over the next several hours communication with the front line was lost; runners sent were either killed or wounded. The Diary continues with details of messages to and from the front line and the enemy bombardment " … continued  until 9.40 p.m. our casualties being heavy. The Commanding Officer Lt. Colonel G.H. Baker being hit and dying shortly after.

During the period of this intense bombardment the enemy essayed several attacks on the East and Southeast sides of MAPLECOPSE all of which were repelled by the prompt rapid fire of our men. …. The general bombardment by the enemy continued reinforced with intense machine gun fire, during the night until about 11 p.m. when the 2nd CMR Battalion … came up and endeavoured to dig themselves in."

It was probably during during this engagement that Robert received the wounds from which he died on the 21st September. The Canadian Expeditionary Force Burial Register states that Robert "Died of wounds (Gunshot Wound Thigh) No. 1 Canadian General Hospital Etaples". He is buried in Étaples Cemetery, close to where he died.

In reporting his death 'The Buxton Advertiser' (30th September 1916) gave a similar account, in that a telegram had been received by Robert's parents to advise them that he ".. he had been wounded by shrapnel, and that he was suffering from a compound fracture of the thigh. Later another telegram came saying that he had died from his wounds."

Corporal William Rees wrote to Robert's mother: "It is with sincere regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, Rob. He died of wounds received on September 18th, whilst holding a trench we had won from the enemy. I hasten to assure you of the heartfelt sympathy of our Platoon in your great loss. Rob had only been with us a little over three months but in that time had earned the confidence and respect of both Officers and men."

· Two of Robert's brothers also served with the Colours, but, with the exception of Abel Lomas, there are at least
   three soldiers of similar names and initials for the other five brothers.
· The Buxton Advertiser, 30 September 1916
· I am grateful to Steve Godfrey for the photo of William's grave
· Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935. Roll T-4807
· Canadian Expeditionary Force Burial Registers

Link to CWGC Record
Etaples Cemetery c. 1919
Etaples Cemetery c. 1919
Pt Robert Howe's grave
Pt Robert Howe
Robert's name on the Peak Dale Memorial