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Biographical entry Howse, Sir Neville Reginald (1863 - 1930)

VC 1900; KCB 1917; KCMG 1919; CB 1915; MRCS 23 July 1886; FRCS 10 June 1897; LRCP 1887; FRCSEd 1919.

16 October 1863
Stogursey, Somerset
21 September 1930
General surgeon and Politician


Born 26 October 1863 at Stogursey, Somerset, the second surviving son of Alfred Howse, MRCS (see the memoir of C B Howse, above). He was educated at Fulland's School, Taunton, and afterwards entered the London Hospital, where he served as house surgeon to E Hurry Fenwick. He went to New South Wales in 1897, where he practised for two years, until in October 1899 he volunteered during the South African War. He received a commission as captain in the New South Wales Medical Staff Corps, and saw much service in the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal. He was present at the actions of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Diamond Hill in June, and in those of Bethlehem and Witherby in July 1900. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery at Vredfort on 24 July 1900, when he carried a wounded man to safety in face of heavy cross fire, and at the end of the campaign received the Queen's medal with six clasps and the King's medal with two clasps, having been promoted major.

He returned to New South Wales at the end of the war, practised at Orange, and married in 1905 Evelyn Northcote, eldest daughter of G de Vial Pilcher, of Newstead, Orange, New South Wales, who survived him with two sons and two daughters. His brother, C B Howse, FRCS, joined him in partnership at Orange in 1908.

During the world war he was appointed in 1914 principal medical officer of the Australian naval and military expedition to German New Guinea and the Pacific isles with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He next went to Egypt with the first Australian Division, was promoted colonel and was made Assistant Director of Medical Services. In this capacity he was responsible for the arrangements of Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Auxiliary Corps) at Gallipoli, was mentioned in despatches in the London Gazette of 5 August 1915 and was decorated CB, being promoted to KCB two years later. In November 1915 he became Surgeon-General and Director of the Australian and New Zealand medical forces, and shortly afterwards became Medical Director-General of the Australian Imperial Forces. He held this position until 1919, and was rewarded with a Knighthood of the most distinguished Order of St Michael and St George. From 1919 to 1922 he was Director-General of the Australian Army Medical Service, and on his retirement was promoted to the rank of major-general.

He entered the Commonwealth House of Representatives in 1922, and held office successively as Minister for Defence, Minister for Health, and Minister for Home and Territories. In 1923 he was one of the Australian representatives at the fourth Assembly of the League of Nations, and for a time was looked upon as a likely successor to Sir Joseph Cook, the High Commissioner for Australia in London.

Howse died in London on 21 September 1930, and was buried at All Souls Cemetery, Kensal Rise. He was possessed of a dynamic personality, for he worked and played at high speed, hated slackness, and never suffered fools gladly. He had great gifts of organization and administration, his decisions were rapid and fearless, and he never shirked responsibility. As a doctor he was a shrewd diagnostician with a strong bias towards surgery; as a statesman he had ever before him the advancement of medicine, and the newly established Royal Australasian College of Surgeons owed much to his efforts. In character he was utterly without fear, was always ready to take a risk, and on the field of battle he seemed to bear a charmed life. He was a poor speaker, curiously modest, hating ostentation and worshipping efficiency.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 22 September 1930; Brit med J 1930, 2, 545, with portrait; Lancet, 1930, 2, 717, and p 770, eulogy by Dr Lewis Smith; The Australian Army Medical Services in the war of 1914-1918, 1930, 1, 393, portrait, with Sir Victor Horsley].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England