Bay man’s fib led to Stalag
A Geordie, Sid Howell was very much the Kiwi boy-adventurer by the time he made one of the biggest decisions of his life in 1940.
The decision was to tell a fib, claiming, at 19, that he was 21. Off to war, the big adventure, and proud to serve his adoptive country. It led to three years in prison camps after he was captured at Reweisat Ridge, Syria, in 1942.
Released in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war in 1945, it was only the start of a long walk to freedom, for it was not until late the following year that he was reunited with family in Napier.
But Sid, or “Slim” as he became known, had something particular to look forward to, and it was only a short time after his return that he married his fiancee, Cynthia, whom he’d met when he was 18.
After 38 years together, she passed away in 1984. They had four children, losing daughter Sandra at age three, while son Lee died in 1989.
After losing his wife, Sid met Moana, one of Cynthia’s friends. He hadn’t seen her since before the war, and, bitten by the travel bug, they married on the Queen Mary, at Long Beach, California.
As a trumpet player, Sid played at Anzac parades for 60 years, including those he spent as a POW, and later as an RSA life member.
Born at Bedlington, Northumberland, on July 18, 1920, Sid took after his father, Frederick Howell, a coalminer and a musician, who served in the marine band on HMS Barham in WW1.
Sid was just seven when his mother died. A year later, his father – having initially settled in as a miner in Westport – answered an advert for a soprano cornet player in the Napier Citizen Band, and took the family to Hawke’s Bay.
Like many youngsters in the depression, Sid’s education ended before high school, and he became a grocer boy.
He first blew the bugle in uniform in Fiji in 1940. A year later he was doing it at military funerals in Cairo.
During convalescence in Maadi following severe dysentery, he was picked up as cornet player by the 5th Brigade Band, and joined a small group within the band, The Diggers Dance Band. They played for officers’ dances, Cairo night clubs, and for wedding dances on a Nile houseboat.
His capture on July 15, 1942, and an attempt at escape, were steps on the way to his next musical venture, buying a trumpet at the Stalag camp in Lamsdauf, Poland.
He formed a POW band, The Aristocrats, and among its engagements were German officers’ dances, which he at first declined, until he realised that if they played loudly enough it would also provide enjoyment to those in a Jewish camp next door.
On the Dominion Monarch on the way home in 1946, Shaw Savill paid him to lead the ship’s band, and after his marriage it was only a matter of time before his musical career continued, notably with his Slim Howell Orchestra, and the Anzac parades, which would continue to the year 2000.
Sid got back into grocery, before buying into the Blue Band Taxi Co, of which he became chairman of directors. He and Cynthia started a florist’s in Havelock North, and Sid also became Sutcliffe’s music store (Havelock North) branch manager.
He is survived by Moana, daughters Linda and Janine, brother Maurice and sisters Bev and Pam, eight of his nine grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. His funeral was held at St Aubyn Chapel, Hastings, on January 27.