When Canungra’s memorial was finally unveiled on ANZAC Day 1938, among the 136 names on its roll of honour was that of Stanley Howard, the most recent casualty of the Great War.
A year earlier, on April 16, 1937, Stanley had passed away in Brisbane – more than two decades after a bullet had severed his spinal cord during the Battle of Pozieres in France.
Stanley is marked on the memorial as having died of wounds. His death certificate states he died as a result of a gunshot wound to the spine with paraplegia, as well as pyelonephritis and uraemia, indicating the kidney problems Stanley, 40, had by then suffered for half his lifetime.
Born at Bannockburn near Beenleigh, Stanley was the eldest son of George and Ada Howard of Canungra and had been working as a labourer at Lahey’s sawmill at Canungra before enlisting in May, 1915.
Being under 21, he not only had the consent of both parents to join up, he also had letters from each endorsing the war effort.
Dated May 24, the letter signed by his mother read:
“Dear Sir, the bearer, Robert Stanley Howard, has my full consent to join the Expeditionary forces for the front in whatever capacity he is best fitted to serve his King and Country.”
Stanley’s father was even more effusive in his support, writing:
“I hereby give my consent to the application of my son Stanley Howard to join the expeditionary forces at present being raised to fight the battles of our Country. He is my only son old enough, his 19th birthday being last Monday. I think many more of our young men should respond to the Country’s call than are coming forward at present.”
Private Howard left Brisbane on the HMAT Shropshire, with the 2nd reinforcements of the 26th Battalion, bound for Gallipoli, on August 17.
He arrived on the Turkish peninsula mid-October, almost six months after the initial ill-fated April landings at ANZAC Cove and two months after the last major assault in August that had also ended in disaster.
The next two months were spent in a purely defensive role as the stalemate between the Turks and the British and ANZAC troops continued.
After the evacuation of Gallipoli in December, Stanley returned to Egypt, via Mudros Island, on January 9. There was further training for the men who were now considered Gallipoli veterans, and the new recruits who had arrived to reinforce the battalions destined for the Western Front.
The 26th Battalion left Alexandria as part of the British Expeditionary Force on March 15, arriving in Marseilles, France, six days later.
In his first major action of the war and the battalion’s first major battle on the Western Front, Stanley was cut down by a gunshot wound to the back on August 6, during the bitter and costly fighting at Pozieres.
The two-week campaign involved 21 AIF battalions and artillery, and was Australia’s bloodiest battle of the war, with historian Charles Bean declaring that Pozières Ridge “is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.”
Stanley was just one of 23,000 casualties of a battle that British and Australian commanders had expected to win in one day.
By motor ambulance, Stanley was taken to Boulogne to be shipped to England on the HS Cambria.
He was admitted to the King George Hospital in London and when surgeons operated three days later they found the projectile that had completely severed Stanley’s spinal cord, leaving him a paraplegic.
A telegram dated August 18 was sent to Stanley’s mother stating:
“Regret reported son Private Stanley Howard seriously ill gunshot wound spine and paraplegia will furnish progress report when received.”
This devastating news came the month after Stanley’s younger brother, Hubert Howard, had enlisted in the 26th Battalion. He arrived in England from Australia on January 10, 1917, the day a medical board found Stanley “permanently unfit for both war and home service” and arrangements were being made to send Stanley home.
Four days later, on January 14, Stanley was taken aboard the HT Kanowna, bound for Brisbane.
Arriving on March 3, Stanley was discharged from the Army on June 2, with a pension of three pounds per fortnight beginning the following day.
Still completely paralysed from the waist down, Stanley was, by then, able to sit if supported.
In 1920, Stanley became the first resident of Shafston House at Kangaroo Point, after it was officially opened by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) as an Anzac Hostel to care for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. It would be his home for the rest of his life.
At Stanley’s funeral on Saturday, April 17, 1937, members of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia’s Incapacitated Sub-Branch formed a guard of honour to farewell their president. Stanley was also a life member of the Wounded and Incapacitated Sailors and Soldiers Association of Queensland and had campaigned to establish a home for Diggers at Bilinga on the Gold Coast.
Aged 40 when he passed away, Stanley had spent half his lifetime as a paraplegic but had done his best to live a life not defined by disability.
According to his niece Elma Dagg, he bought a car whose controls could be operated totally by hand so he had some measure of independence. Stanley also created many beautiful pieces of hand tooled leatherwork, including handbags.
Elma, the daughter of Stanley’s brother, Eric (Keith), nine years his junior, was born in 1940, three years after her uncle had passed away, but her childhood had been filled with stories of Stanley and there had always a photograph of him in the house.
“After the war he bought a motorbike that he could drive from the sidecar,” she said.
“One day, traveling from Coomera to Canungra, he had my father, his much younger brother, on the seat of the bike and they were stopped by a policeman who wanted to know ‘who is in charge of this vehicle?’.”