The Airmen's Stories - P/O R A Howley
Richard Alexander Howley came from a long-established family in St. John's, Newfoundland (an independent country until becoming a Canadian province in 1949). He was born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on 16th April 1920, at the time the family was there as his father was stationed at the local naval base on loan from the Royal Navy.
Howley, known to all as Dick, was educated at St. Bonaventure's College in St. John's, Newfoundland and at Colebrook School in the UK. At 17 he started flying lessons with the Sir Alan Cobham flying school at Shoreham, Sussex.
Once he gained his private flying licence he joined the RAF on a six-year short service commission.
Above: Howley at Shoreham, the photo inscribed with his traditional signoff 'Happy Landings'.
He went through the RAF flying training system, converting to twin-engine aircraft on the Avro Anson (below) and was awarded his wings.
He spent much of his leave with two friends made on this course, P/O Eric Baker from New Zealand and P/O Jack Leeds from Ontario, Canada.
Above: Dick, Eric (the first to be awarded his wings), Jack.
Below: Eric, Dick, Jack.
Howley was posted to 141 Squadron on 6th October 1939 as one of its first pilots when it reformed at Turnhouse, Edinburgh. The squadron was equipped with Blenheims and moved at the end of that month to Grangemouth.
His logbook shows an attachment to RAF Stanmore, Middlesex and ferry flights of factory-fresh Blenheims to Grangemouth. On 10th November 1939 he escaped uninjured from a Blenheim accident
at RAF Sealands.
Above: A visit to a girlfriend, Mercy Bailey, just days before he was lost.
In June 1940 141 Squadron was re-equipped with the Defiant turret fighter and moved to West Malling. They operated on a daily basis from the forward airfield at Hawkinge.
On the morning of 19th July 1940 Howley was flying one of nine Defiants attacked by Me109's of III/JG51 off Dover. He was shot down into the Channel in Defiant L6995 and he and his gunner, Sgt. AG Curley, were reported 'Missing'.
141 Squadron lost six aircraft with nine aircrew killed in this engagement and was withdrawn to Prestwick to regroup.
Howley was 20. He is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 27 (below).
Above image courtesy of Dean Sumner
Of his friends, Eric Baker was shot down but survived as a PoW and returned after the war to New Zealand. Jack Leeds was killed on 8th September 1940 whilst flying in Wellington IC R3175 OJ-V of 149 Squadron which was lost over the sea on a raid to Boulogne to attack the invasion barges. He is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
Howley's family received his RAF medals plus the Silver Cross medal awarded by the Canadian authorities to families of those killed in action.
The family corresponded with the Ministry of Defence in 1968 (below):
(Right click on image and select 'View Image' for the full size scan).
Additional research and all photographs courtesy of Richard's sister, Tina
In September 2014 Tina Howley and three of Richard's nieces came to the UK to attend the annual Thanksgiving Service at Westminster Abbey. Tina is seen below with Richard's medals.