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Howse, Sir Neville Reginald (1863–1930)

Neville Howse, by Anglo-Swiss Photo-Studio, 1914-19

Neville Howse, by Anglo-Swiss Photo-Studio, 1914-19

National Library of Australia, 23449049

The death is reported of Sir Neville Howse, V.C. Sir Neville died at 7.30 p.m. Lady Howse and his three daughters were present.

Sir Neville Howse had a brilliant career, and to him Australia owes a great debt of gratitude. In the Boer War he won the Victoria Cross. As Director-General of Medical Services attached to the Commonwealth forces in London during the Great War, his remarkable ability and extraordinary powers of organisation were such that the Australian medical service overseas became one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient, of the Allied armies. He held several portfolios in the Bruce-Page Government, being Minister for Defence, Health, and Repatriation.

Born in Somersetshire, England, in 1863, Sir Neville Howse was the second son of the late Dr Alfred Howse, who was a house surgeon at the London Hospital. He was educated at Fulland's School, Taunton, and entered the London Hospital as a medical student in 1880. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, Eng., and a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, London, three years later. For several years he suffered ill-health, and decided to come to Australia. He arrived in Sydney in 1889 and practised at Taree until 1895, when he returned to England. For the next two years he was engaged entirely on surgical work, and gained a Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Sir Neville Howse returned to New South Wales in 1899, and proceeded to Orange, where he purchased Dr Van Sommeren's practice. However, he had practised only several months when he decided to go to the Boer War. It was at this stage that his military career commenced. As second lieutenant with the New South Wales Lancers he saw active service in the Orange Free State. He distinguished himself by his disregard for safety and by his close attention to duty, and his bravery at Vredefort won him the Victoria Cross. Shortly afterwards he was promoted captain, and he returned to Orange. Some months later, however, he returned to the war and was again promoted and for the remainder of the South African War he served as major in charge of a field ambulance. After the war Sir Neville Howse returned to his practice in Orange, and with the exception of a year in England remained at that centre until the outbreak of war in 1914. He was then a major on the A.A.M.C. reserve, and at once volunteered for active service. Having been given the rank of lieutenant-colonel, he proceeded to Rabaul in the capacity of principal medical officer of the expeditionary troops. Returning to Sydney in October, he was in time to sail with the First Australian Division, and in Egypt was chosen to be Assistant Director of Medical Services of the First Division.

The way in which Sir Neville Howse acquitted himself at the landing at Anzac, and more particularly the manner in which he succeeded in removing wounded from the shore to the safety of ships during the first few days, were described as magnificent. Later he was given control of all medical units at Anzac, including the R.A.M.C., and he remained there until the evacuation. For his accomplishments at Anzac he was created a Companion of the Bath. Early in 1916 Surgeon-General Fetherston made a careful inquiry into the organisation of the Australian Army Medical Services and, as a result, Sir Neville Howse was appointed Director-General of Medical Services of the Australian and New Zealand Forces in the Mediterranean. Holding the rank of Surgeon-General, he made a vast improvement in the conditions in Egypt, the result being that in France the Australian Medical Corps was recognised as a model for others to follow.

In January, 1917, he was appointed to the rank of Major-General and had his headquarters in London. He was wounded, and mentioned in despatches, and his valuable services were brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for War. He was created K.C.B. in 1917 and K.C.M.G. in 1919. In the latter year he was also made a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Sir Neville Howse returned to New South Wales in December, 1919, and from 1921 until 1925 was Director-General of Medical Services. In 1922 he decided to seek political honours as a Nationalist and was successful in winning the Calare (NSW) seat in the House of Representatives. He retained the seat until the general election last year, when he was defeated. In 1923 he was a member of the Australian delegation to the fourth Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva. From January, 1925, until March, 1927, he was Minister for Defence and Minister for Health. In 1926 he accompanied the then Prime Minister (Mr Bruce) to the Imperial Conference, and in March 1927 he became Minister for Health and Repatriation.

Sir Neville Howse married Evelyn Northcote, daughter of Mr G. de Val Pilcher, of Newstead, Orange, in 1905, and there are two sons and three daughters. He left Australia in February last on a health trip to England and the Continent, accompanied by Lady Howse and their daughters.

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Citation details

'Howse, Sir Neville Reginald (1863–1930)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/howse-sir-neville-reginald-6753/text1112, accessed 15 November 2019.

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