Military History

The Highest Honour #21 | John Hamilton | George Howell

By The Cove June 7, 2021


LIEUTENANT JOHN HAMILTON  VC (1896 - 1961, 64yo)

John Patrick Hamilton was born on 01 January 1896 at Orange, NSW. There are very few details on Hamilton's schooling but on enlistment to the Australian Imperial Force on 15 September 1914, he described himself as a butcher. Having previously served in the Militia he was posted to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade and departed for Egypt in October.

After training, the 3rd Battalion took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 Apr 1915. On 9 August, during the battle of Lone Pine, the Turks launched a bomb attack followed by a violent general assault with intense rifle and machine-gun fire. Near Sasse's Sap the 3rd Battalion counter-attacked and drove them back but soon afterwards Turkish soldiers again streamed down the sap. Lieutenant Owen Howell-Price, Adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, ordered several men, including Hamilton, to scramble onto the parapet and fire on the enemy in the trenches while he confronted those advancing along the sap. Exposed to intense fire and protected only by a few sandbags, Hamilton lay out in the open for six hours telling those in the trenches where to throw their bombs while he kept up constant sniper fire. A dangerous assault was thus halted. For his 'coolness and daring example' he received the Victoria Cross, the only one awarded to his unit during the war.

The 3rd Battalion was decimated at Lone Pine but, after reorganisation in Egypt, left for France in March 1916 and went into the line at Armentières. Hamilton was promoted to Corporal on 03 May 1916 and fought at Pozières in July, Mouquet Farm in August and Flers in November. He was promoted Sergeant in May 1917 and that year his battalion served at Bullecourt, Menin Road and Broodseinde.

Hamilton was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in January 1919 while posted to the Number 5 Officer Cadet Battalion at Cambridge, England. In April he was promoted to Lieutenant. He rejoined his unit late that month and returned to Australia in August where his AIF appointment ended the following month. 

During World War 2 he served as a Lieutenant with the 16th Garrison Battalion and several training battalions. In 1942 he went to New Guinea with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, then served with Australian Labour Employment Companies until 1944 when he transferred to the Australian Army Labour Service. He was promoted to Captain in the Australian Military Forces in October 1944. He returned to Sydney in April 1946.

Hamilton died of cerebro-vascular disease in the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, Sydney, on 27 February 1961 and was buried in Woronora cemetery.

CORPORAL GEORGE JULIAN 'SNOWY' HOWELL  VC, MM (1893 - 1964, 71yo)

George Howell was born on 19 November 1893 at Enfield, NSW. At the completion of his schooling he worked as an apprentice bricklayer and was working as a builder when he enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force on 03 June 1915. He sailed for Egypt on 14 July with the 7th Reinforcements for the 1st Battalion, joined his unit at Gallipoli on 01 November 1915 and served there until the evacuation.

Howell accompanied his battalion to France in March 1916, was wounded in the battle of Pozières in July and evacuated to England. Before returning to the front he attended a training school and was promoted to Corporal on 06 February 1917. For 'courage and devotion' to duty while leading a rifle bombing section during the capture of Demicourt in April 1917, he was awarded the Military Medal. On 06 May 1917, near Bullecourt, where the 1st Battalion experienced some of its heaviest fighting, he won the Victoria Cross. Realising that a large party of Germans threatened to outflank his battalion, he climbed onto the parapet and despite heavy bomb attacks and rifle-fire proceeded to bomb the enemy back along the trench. Lieutenant T. J. Richards supported him with a Lewis-gun, following him along the trench and firing bursts. When he ran out of bombs, Howell continued his assault by jabbing down at the Germans with his bayonet until, severely wounded, he fell into the trench. His citation stated that the 'prompt and gallant conduct of this non-commissioned officer in the face of superior numbers was witnessed by the whole battalion and greatly inspired them in the subsequent successful counter-attack'. After a fierce, close fight his unit regained all the ground taken by the enemy.

Due to signifiant injuries he was hospitalised in England and returned to Australia in November where he was demobilised on 05 June 1918. In World War II he served with the 2nd A.I.F. as a Staff Sergeant with Eastern Command, New South Wales, but found this work 'too unexciting' so in August 1944 joined the United States Army Sea Transport Service and took part in the landing at Leyte during the invasion of the Philippines. In December 1953 he retired to Perth to join his married daughter and later lived at Gunyidi, Western Australia.

Howell died on 23 December 1964 in Hollywood and was cremated with full military honours.


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Biography

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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