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Howell, Cedric Ernest (1896–1919)

by T. H. Cooke

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Cedric Ernest Howell (1896-1919), airman and draftsman, was born on 17 June 1896 in Adelaide, son of Ernest Howell, accountant, and his wife Ida Caroline, née Hasch. He attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1909-13, became a draftsman, and was a second lieutenant in the 49th (Prahran) Cadet Battalion by 1914. He enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 January 1916 and embarked in March with the 16th Reinforcements for the 14th Battalion. He became an acting sergeant before joining the 46th Battalion with which he served briefly in France.

On 11 November 1916 Howell transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and joined No.1 Royal Flying Officers' Cadet Battalion, Durham, England. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, R.F.C., on 17 March 1917, he was posted to No.17 Reserve Squadron on 30 April. On 25 July he was promoted flying officer and was attached to the Central Flying School. He married Cicely Elizabeth Hallam Kilby at St Stephen's Anglican Church, Bush Hill Park, London, on 12 September and next month was posted to No.45 Squadron in Italy. With the creation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918 he held the rank of lieutenant, R.A.F. On 1 June he was promoted temporary captain and examining officer with No.28 Squadron.

During his service in Italy between October 1917 and August 1918, Howell displayed extraordinary bravery and skill. One of his tasks was to destroy enemy transport crossing the Alps. In August 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross: while leading a patrol of three machines he 'attacked nine enemy aeroplanes, destroying six and driving down one out of control; he himself accounted for two of these'. The citation described him as 'a fine fighting officer; skilful and determined'. Next month his Military Cross was gazetted. He had 'bombed an electrical power-house with great skill, obtaining three direct hits from 100 feet (30.5 m). With two other machines he carried out a most dashing attack on a formation of twelve enemy aeroplanes. Although badly hampered by frequent jams in both of his machine guns, he destroyed three and drove one down out of control'. This award was followed by the Distinguished Service Order in November, the citation stating:

This officer recently attacked, in company with one other machine, an enemy formation of fifteen aeroplanes and succeeded in destroying four of them and bringing down one out of control. Two days after he destroyed another enemy machine, which fell in our lines, and on the following day he led three machines against sixteen enemy scouts, destroying two of them. Captain Howell is a very gallant and determined fighter who takes no account of the enemy's superior numbers in his battles.

Howell's service record included an A1 grade from the advanced precision flying school at Gosport, confirmation of nineteen enemy planes destroyed, with other possible kills, and three gallantry awards. These ensure his recognition as a true 'ace' of World War I. He was demobilized on 31 July 1919 and on 15 August was nominated by Martinsyde Ltd of Woking, England, as pilot of their Martinsyde A1 aircraft in the England-Australia air race for which a prize of £10,000 had been offered by the Australian government. He was to be accompanied by Lieutenant George Henry Fraser, a qualified navigator and engineer.

Howell and Fraser took off from Hounslow aerodrome on 4 December 1919 with a minimum of fuss. They were dogged by bad weather and landed at Dijon, France. Next day they reached Pisa, Italy, where they fitted a new tail skid to the aircraft and on 6 December reached Naples. At noon on 10 December they left Taranto for Athens. At 8 p.m. the plane was reported flying over St George's Bay, Corfu, in semi-darkness and shortly afterwards it fell into the sea. Howell's body was washed ashore several days later and some effects, including the log, were recovered from the aircraft. Attempts to tow the plane to shore were unsuccessful.

Many conflicting reports were given concerning the loss of the aircraft and crew. It was later proven that the A1 had been fully fuelled at Taranto; the details of what happened will never be established. Howell's remains were returned to Australia and on 22 April 1920 he was buried with full military honours in Heidelberg cemetery, Victoria. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Liber Melburniensis (Melb, 1937)
  • Flight (London), 6 Nov, 11, 18 Dec 1919
  • Aeroplane, 17 Dec 1919
  • Sea, Land, and Air, May 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Aug, 22 Sept, 9, 10, 16, 17, 18, 20, 27, 29 Dec 1919, 8 Jan, 23 Feb, 23 Apr 1920
  • CRS A 457, item G506/4 and CRS A2, item 20/2254 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

T. H. Cooke, 'Howell, Cedric Ernest (1896–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howell-cedric-ernest-6747/text11657, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 13 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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