On The War Memorial Trail….. The WW2 Despatch Rider Who Was Shocked To Have Survived

February 1, 2022.  Every fall, veterans from the Borden-Carleton Legion volunteer to place flags at the graves of veterans buried in cemeteries in the area covered by this Legion Branch on Prince Edward Island.  (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2021/11/04/borden-carleton-legion-honours-veterans-by-placing-flags-at-their-graves/)

One of the graves for which a flag was placed at the Tryon People’s Cemetery was for WW2 veteran Richard Lea HOWATT of Tryon, Prince Edward Island, who had been a despatch rider during the war.

Richard was born March 17, 1923 in Tryon, the son of Everett King Kilburn Howatt and Clara, nee Thomas.  Before enlisting in Truro, Nova Scotia at No 6 District Depot on February 28, 1942, he was a self-employed truck driver for logging camps, and based in Melrose, New Brunswick.

His attestation form indicated he was a skilled motorcycle rider, and his hobbies included swimming, hunting, fishing, and that he played the position of goalie on a soccer team.

Richard Lea Howatt uniform

Richard Lea Howatt.  (Photo courtesy of Catherine Ann Howatt-Dickson)

Based on his skill set, he was recommended as being “…well qualified for despatch rider and motor transport generally.  Has plenty of experience…” The assessment went on to note that Richard was “…very quiet…” and that he “…is still rather young…

CIMG5352 Pieter and Catherine Ann Howatt Dickson

Pieter with Reverend Catherine Ann Howatt-Dickson, and a picture of her father.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

…A quiet man with a wanderlust and seeker of adventure….

He was only 18 at the time of his enlistment.  His daughter, the Reverend Catherine Ann Howatt-Dickson, said that since he signed up before he was of age, “… his mother wanted to report him to the authorities, but his Dad said to let him be as he’ll do it anyways….

Catherine Ann explained that although her father “…was a quiet man, he was the wild one of the family and no one knew what to do with him.  He had a wanderlust and was a seeker of adventure, having left home at age 13 to work in lumber camps and was a truck driver….

After a month of basic training in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Richard was transferred to 26 Forestry Corps and sent to Valcartier, Quebec.  Catherine Ann recalled her father saying that he was “…issued a gray blanket to be wrapped in if he died.  What bugged him was that he had to pay for this out of his first pay….

By May 17, 1942 he was in Halifax and ready to embark to the United Kingdom, arriving on May 26, 1942, and reassigned to 29 Canadian Forestry Corps.

….An unsolved mystery….

While still in the United Kingdom, Richard applied for permission to marry Miss Margaret Ross of Culleave, Ardgay, Ross-shire in Scotland on April 6, 1943.  He stated that he had known her for 7 months and her next of kin, likely her father, was John Ross. Permission was granted in May 1943 by the military as long as the ‘…wedding did not take place before July 21, 1943…

For some reason, the wedding never took place, and the family was mystified to learn about this from his service file, which was applied for after his death, and therefore too late to ask about.

…The dangerous life of a despatch rider begins….

On July 16, 1943, Richard was transferred to the CASCRU (Canadian Army Service Corps Reinforcement Unit) and sent for a motorcycle rider’s course, which he successfully completed.

I was interested to learn what was in the course.  If you are too, you can watch this YouTube Canadian Motorcycle Riders Training course (just under 8 minutes):

Richard Lea Howatt despatch rider

Richard Lea Howatt as a despatch rider.  (Photo courtesy of Catherine Ann Howatt-Dickson)

The role of a despatch rider was to deliver messages, no matter how dangerous the conditions.  Although communication by radio or telephone was available in WW2, it wasn’t always practical or available. Shelling by the enemy could cut lines, and signals could be intercepted or not have a long enough range.

For more information on despatch riders see:

Richard was attached to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC), assigned to various regiments as needed. (See https://www.junobeach.org/canada-in-wwii/articles/supplying-canadas-field-army-overseas/the-royal-canadian-army-service-corps/)  On February 28, 1944 he was awarded the Good Conduct Badge.

On July 8, 1944 he was sent to France with the RCASC and assigned to 7 Medical Regiment as a despatch rider and scout.  On October 20, 1944, while on patrol, Richard had an accident that resulted in him being evacuated to England from France on November 2, 1944.  Catherine Ann related that “…as he was on patrol, he couldn’t use his headlights.  A truck hit him and he had a head injury, resulting in a 3 month hospital stay….

…Empathy and humanity was never lost by Richard….

On March 4, 1945 he was sent to northwest Europe with RCASC, this time assigned to 82 Canadian Artillery Company and 7 Medical Regiment.  Catherine Ann related an anecdote shared by her father: “…3 German soldiers surrendered and Dad was told to take them to a warehouse.  He gave them some green apples and a cigarette while waiting for them to be picked up.  Dad was reprimanded and told he could be court martialled for sitting and smoking with them….

On June 18, 1945 Richard was transferred to 45 Army Transport Company, then on October 28, 1945 he was sent to 63 Army Transport Company.

In another anecdote, Catherine Ann recalled her father’s anguish about the treatment of horses in the immediate post-war period. “…One of the hardest things at the end of the war in Germany was seeing wounded horses.  Dad wanted to shoot them and put them out of their misery but was told there was not enough ammunition.  Dad was very hurt as he was an animal lover and our kitchen table was always used as a makeshift animal clinic…

…Love at first sight?….

On November 26, 1945 he returned to the United Kingdom in preparation for returning back to Canada.  At the beginning of 1946 he arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was discharged on February 27, 1946.

Richard bought a motorcycle and returned to Prince Edward Island.  One day, while in Victoria-By-The-Sea, he pulled up on his bike.  Catherine Ann told us what happened next. “ … Mom was walking with her girlfriend.  Dad didn’t know her, but asked her if she wanted a ride.  She said yes….” It seemed as if it was love at first sight.

On April 17, 1948 he married Marguerite Alexandra MacDonald and they had 5 children, of which Catherine Ann is the youngest. “…Dad did farming, then worked at CN Marine as a deckhand until he retired.  His nickname was ‘Mouse’ because he was so quiet….

…Shocked and surprised to have survived the war…

As a teenager, Catherine Ann interviewed her father about his war experience.  “…I asked him what shocked and surprised him the most and he answered ‘that I lived’….”  Many veterans would agree with that statement!

Richard died March 17, 2003 in Tryon, and is buried in the Tryon People’s Cemetery, after a life well-lived.

CIMG5353 Sep 30 2021 Grave of Richard Lea Howatt Tryon Peoples Cemetery

Grave of Richard Lea Howatt at the Tryon People’s Cemetery in Prince Edward Island.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Thank you to Reverend Catherine Ann Howatt-Dickson for sharing her father’s story with us.  If you have photos or information to share, please let Pieter know. Email him at memorialtrail@gmail.com, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1.

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Screenshot_2021-02-27 On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg

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© Daria Valkenburg

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