The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (QX37595) Private George Edgar Krafft, 2/12th Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.61
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 2 March 2021
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Tristan Rallings, the story for this day was on (QX37595) Private George Edgar Krafft, 2/12th Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force, First World War.

Speech transcript

Major Harold Charles Howden, 48th Battalion, AIF
KIA 5 July 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Major Harold Charles Howden.

Harold Howden was born in 1890, the only son of Charles and Lillie Howden of Melbourne. Born in the suburb of Preston and educated in nearby Northcote, after some “general business training” in Victoria, New Zealand and New South Wales, he went on to work as a commercial traveller. In the years before the outbreak of war he was living in Sydney and working as a representative for Messers De Trey and Company, demonstrating dental instruments.

Harold Howden enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force shortly before Christmas in 1914. He underwent a period of training in Australia, and in February the following year left for active service overseas as a corporal with reinforcements to the 13th Battalion. Corporal Howden was first sent to Egypt, where he continued training in the desert. From there he was sent to Gallipoli, arriving about a week after the dawn landing.

Although Howden spent a significant period of the Gallipoli campaign in hospital with a septic wound, he also proved to be a capable soldier. By the end of the year he had been commissioned in the field to the rank of second lieutenant. His commanding officer, Colonel Herring, described him as “a brilliant soldier and a brilliant leader”. Shortly after the evacuation from Gallipoli he was again promoted, this time to full lieutenant.

In early 1916, having returned to Egypt, the AIF underwent a period of expansion and reorganisation as new recruits flooded the enlistment offices. As part of this process, Howden was transferred to the 45th Battalion, and in mid-March 1916 he was promoted to captain. In early June 1916 he and his battalion were sent to France to fight on the Western Front.

On 23 July 1916, the 1st Australian Division captured the French village of Pozieres as part of the Somme campaign. The 45th Battalion entered the front line not long afterwards. On 5 August 1916, Captain Howden took charge of an isolated outpost in the Australian front line, having been warned to expect a German counterattack. Howden and his men worked through the night to consolidate the position, despite ongoing heavy artillery fire, and when the Germans attacked early the next morning, they were able to keep them out. Howden was awarded the Military Cross for his work that night. General Birdwood wrote to Howden to congratulate him, saying, “The way in which you consolidated the portion of line which you were holding … is worthy of all praise.”

Howden continued to demonstrate his talent in the field. Captain Allen of the 45th Battalion later wrote, “Harold was a most brilliant officer. His courage, thoughtfulness, kindheartedness, cheerfulness and ability won for him the respect and confidence and love of everybody he had the pleasure to command … I have almost worshipped him and I am not the only one.”

In October 1916 Howden was selected to attend a senior officer’s course of instruction at Aldershot in England. He completed the course by Christmas, and after two weeks’ leave he returned to the 45th Battalion in France. At the time, the war was relatively quiet due to the bitterly cold winter. Nevertheless, battalions took the time to organise small-scale attacks on enemy positions. In late February, Howden organised and carried out two attacks on enemy strong posts opposite his position near the French village of Gueudecourt. Howden organised his attacks in great detail, and both successful, resulting in nearly 500 metres of German trench being captured, along with 60 prisoners. For his leadership and organisation, Howden was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross.

Not long after the raids, Howden became one of many men taken to hospital with trench foot, the result of standing in cold and went trenches. It took Howden several months to recover, and he was not fit to return to the battlefield until early May 1917.

On his return, Howden was once again promoted, this time to senior major, and transferred to the 48th Battalion. The 48th Battalion had suffered significant casualties during the fighting around Bullecourt, and Howden became part of the battalion’s rebuilding effort.

In early July 1917 the 48th Battalion was stationed in Ploegsteert Wood, supplying working parties to the front line and undertaking salvage work. Their position regularly came under heavy German shell-fire, although the battalion suffered few casualties as a result. On the morning of 5 July 1915, Major Howden was breakfasting with his fellow officers behind the front line. When they came under fire, Howden was struck by a piece of shrapnel. A friend, Lieutenant Guy Martin, later wrote that the wound was so small that “in ordinary times [it] would not have made a man leave his battalion.” Unfortunately for Major Howden, the fragment caught him in the neck and severed his artery. He bled out in a few minutes.Martin added, “I really believe that he was one of the bravest and best liked men in the AIF. The old Melburnians and this brigade absolutely worshipped him.” There was an outpouring of grief from Howden’s mates, and his mother in Melbourne received many letters of condolence from France. The battalion’s padre, who was there when Howden died, wrote, “Major Howden did not die in vain. His life inspired and influenced much good among all who came in contact with him, and I… will ever be inspired by the memory of his death.”

Major Harold Howden was buried with full military honours in nearby Steenwerck in a funeral service attended by hundreds of men. Every battalion in the brigade was represented, with places of honour given to parties from the battalions with which Howden had served – the 13th, the 45th, and the 48th.

Today Major Harold Howden lies in the Trois Arbres Cemetery in Steenwerck beneath the epitaph, “he died that we might live – mother.” He was 27 years old.
His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Major Harold Charles Howden, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (QX37595) Private George Edgar Krafft, 2/12th Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force, First World War. (video)