Hubert Vaal Howard
Service number 5941

Already a schoolteacher at 18, Hubert Howard quit the classroom for the battlefield, where he was twice wounded in action in some of the fiercest fighting on the Western Front during the Great War.

Born at Loganholme, Hubert, better known as Vaal, was the son of George and Ada Howard, of Canungra. He enlisted on July 7, 1916, following in the footsteps of his brother, Stanley Howard, who had joined the 26th Battalion a year earlier.

Private Howard left Brisbane on the Boonah on October 21, 1916, arriving at Plymouth on January 10, 1917.

After brief training in England, he left for the front on February 25, joining his battalion in the field on March 4.

Just three weeks later, Vaal was wounded in action at the Battle of Lagnicourt, in northern France, on March 26.

There, the British and Australian forces which had followed the Germans as they withdrew to the Hindenburg Line had found themselves facing a well prepared rearguard which put up a fierce fight.

It was from this battle that the 26th Battalion’s Captain Percy Cherry was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and Private Howard suffered a gunshot wound to the arm and the right hand side of his chest.

Vaal travelled by ambulance train to Rouen where he was treated in hospital.

He rejoined his unit on May 6, six weeks after being wounded, and only days after the 26th Battalion had tried for the second time to break through the Hindenburg Line defences at Bullecourt.

“Following in the footsteps of his brother.”

Suffered a gunshot wound to the arm and side of his chest.

As the focus of Australian operations on the Western Front moved to Belgium, Vaal was with the 26th Battalion at the Battle of Menin Road on September 20. The attempt to take the curving ridge east of Ypres, crossed by the Menin Road, was one in a series of battles in the larger Allied offensive known as Third Ypres. It was also known as the Battle of Passchendaele for the ruined Belgian village which was the final objective.

In spite of the 5000 casualties suffered by two Australian divisions, the Battle of Menin Road was considered a victory, and was followed by another success with the capture of Broodseinde Ridge on October 4.

Three days later, at Zonnebeke, less than two kilometres from Broodseinde, Vaal was wounded in action for the second time, suffering a slight gunshot wound to the head.

He was evacuated to England on October 16 and admitted to the 2nd Military Hospital in Canterbury.

It was a month before Vaal’s mother in Canungra received a telegram to say that her son had been wounded.

After leaving hospital on November 17, Vaal had furlough until December 1 when he was to have reported to the base at Hurdcott.

However, he did not arrive until December 3 and for being absent for two days without leave forfeited seven days pay.

Vaal returned to the front on February 21, leaving England from Southampton. He rejoined his battalion on February 26 and was part of the massive Australian effort to turn back the German Spring Offensive in April.

From June 29, Vaal was out of action with influenza, rejoining the battalion on July 21. A week earlier, while attempting to snatch a portion of the German line, the 26th Battalion had famously captured the first German tank to fall into Allied hands, Mephisto, now one of the most prized exhibits in the Queensland Museum collection.

9 October 1917: The 26th Battalion returning from the line along the duckboard track between Zonnebeke and Westhoek Ridge, in the Ypres sector.

(Image: Australian War Memorial; Public Domain.)

FOUGHT AT MONT ST QUENTIN, ONE OF THE AIF’S HIGH POINTS OF THE WAR.

After the great Allied offensive began on August 8, Vaal was with the 26th Battalion during what was regarded as one of the battalion’s finest hours of the war – the attack at Mont St Quentin on September 2 – also considered one of the greatest achievements of the AIF during four years of fighting.

The vantage point of Mont St Quentin was the key to controlling the Somme and Australia’s General Monash had his sights set on acquiring this prime piece of real estate.

When the mission was accomplished through a combined effort by Australian battalions from every state, General Monash described the Mont St Quentin-Peronne campaign as “the finest example in the war of spirited and successful infantry action conducted by three divisions operating simultaneously side by side”.

The last action of the war for Vaal and his battalion before the November 11 Armistice was the capture of Lormisset, near Beaurevoir, on October 3, 1918.

During January 1919, as men and equipment were on the move, Vaal was detached from his battalion to Divisional Traffic Control. He had leave in England in February and after the 26th Battalion had been disbanded in May returned to England in June in readiness for the voyage home to Australia.

Vaal left Devonport on the Euripides on September 3 and arrived in Sydney on October 24, but was not discharged from the Army until March, 1920.

After returning to school teaching, Vaal married in the early 1920s. He and his wife, Margaret, had two children, Una and Vic, and lived in Esk. Vaal lived until the age of 79, passing away in 1978.

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