100th birthday: Top brass pay tribute to wartime Royal Navy gunner from Waterlooville

It’s not every day that the Royal Navy’s very top brass turns up at your birthday party.

Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 10:31 am
Commodore Jeremy Bailey and Howard Stowell bumping fists to celebrate. Picture: Nigel Standerline/Streten Photographers.

But there was a special reason why the boss of Portsmouth naval base Commodore Jeremy Bailey was guest of honour at Howard Stowell’s celebration.

For he was there to pass on congratulations on reaching his centenary.

Former navy gunner Howard Stowell felt ‘very proud’ to be read out a letter of congratulations from no less than the First Sea Lord on his special day.

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Howard (Bob) Stowell.

Howard, nicknamed ‘Bob’ while serving in the Hunt-class destroyer HMS Tetcott in the Second World War, celebrated the milestone at the Solent Hotel and Spa at Whiteley, near Fareham, with about 50 members of his family and friends.

Born on July 17, 1921, in Keighley, Yorkshire, Howard grew up with ‘a lovely family of Yorkshire people’. Howard, along with younger brother David, now 94, were raised by parents Fred and Bertha.

According to his family, Howard is the last Tetcott survivor. He joined the navy aged 20 in 1941.

He says: ‘When war broke out, I joined the navy. I spent five years in the navy. I was on destroyers and other ships.

Commodore Jeremy Bailey reading the letter from the First Sea Lord at Howard Stowell's 100th birthday party. Picture: Nigel Standerline/Streten Photographers.

‘I was in the Mediterranean, and I was there for a long time. We kept losing so many soldiers. The Mediterranean was an awful place to be, but we did our best.’

On returning home after serving in the navy, he worked in the office for the Commander in Chief at Portsmouth dockyard, where he met his late wife, Stella.

Howard was also an executive officer for the Air Ministry and he was a civil servant with the Inland Revenue in London.

The veteran says: ‘I met this lady working as a typist in the office for the commander-in-chief. We got to know each other, and in the end, we got married.

Howard Stowell's 100th birthday. Picture: Nigel Standerline/Streten Photographers.

‘She was lovely to look at. She had done a great deal of travelling herself with her family. In those days, if your family was in the navy as her father was, it was possible to travel around if they were posted abroad.’

Howard married Stella at St Mark’s, North End, Portsmouth, in 1948.

The Stowells had three children, the eldest, John, followed by twins Graham and Helen. Howard also has eight grandsons and nine great-grandchildren who have regularly kept in touch.

Howard worked for the United Nations as a representative for Asia and the Pacific towards the end of his working life before retiring at 62.

Since retiring, Howard has attended reunions with Tetcott friends in 2006 and 2008, recalling events from 78 years ago.

He has a collection of writing on his war experiences and life from his Waterlooville study, amounting to about 900,000 words.

Reflecting on reaching the golden age of 100, Howard says: ‘It’s important to be alive mentally. I don’t have any sort of secret.

“If it happens, it happens. I believe it helps if you love yourself along the way. Make sure your physical health is good.’

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