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17 December, 2013

Fighter pilot and best-selling author

A former fighter pilot, Wing Commander Edward Howell became a best-selling author after the Second World War. His book, Escape to live, charted the story of his remarkable escape from a German prisoner-of-war hospital in Thessalonica in 1942.

Wing Cmdr Edward Howell
Wing Cmdr Edward Howell
He was the central character in the BBC Television series Deliverance, screened some years ago. The production retraced his footsteps over the mountains of northern Greece, a journey he had previously undertaken with more purpose and no television cameras, during his daring wartime escape from Greece.

He had been seriously wounded after a ground fight in Crete, where two slugs shattered his left shoulder and fractured the humerus near the joint. Half his right forearm was missing, including some inches of the radius, and he was left for dead before being picked up by German paratroopers and taken to a prison camp hospital in Greece.

Howell later told of his experience of faith—letting God tell him what to do, during which he admitted to ‘receiving constant instruction’—before eventually escaping through the Greek mountains, boarding a smugglers’ boat from Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, to Turkey and then Egypt, and latterly back home again with the help of shepherds and villagers he had befriended. He revealed how a star became his guide and his horrific wounds healed overnight.

The elder son of the Revd A R Howell of Paisley Abbey, he was education at Glasgow Academy, where he was a science prize-winner. He later graduated BSc with first-class honours from Glasgow University. He was a Flying Officer in No 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force from 1932 to 1934. At St Andrews University as a PhD candidate, he left in 1935 to take a University Commission in the Royal Air Force at RAF College Cranwell.

He became a Flight Lieutenant in No 16 Squadron in Fighter Command before being appointed an armament specialist in 1938 with the rank of Squadron Leader to RAF Leuchars in Fife. In 1940 he was posted to the Middle East and also served in Egypt, Turkey and Greece.

It was while commanding No 33 Fighter Squadron (Hurricanes) in the Battle of Crete in 1941 that he was severely wounded in hand-to-hand fighting against invading enemy parachutists. After his escape from Greece and his eventual return to the UK, he was appointed to the Air Staff in Whitehall as a wing commander in 1943, working closely with the inventor Barnes Wallis in the development of the new bombs to attack hard targets.

He later served on the planning staff of D-Day and ended the war on the Joint Staff Mission at the Pentagon in Washington. In 1948 he was invalided to the retired list of the RAF as a wing commander.

Howell worked for many years in the programme of Moral Re-Armament for reconciliation and change in Europe and Asia and helped to organise and direct international conferences in Switzerland and the US.

He later spent some years in the US, when he was invited to become director of a philanthropic foundation in Detroit. He was also a development director of an institute which was concerned with resolving the acute racial and family problems of the American inner cities.

In 1970 he was invited to help his old friends in Greece and was appointed vice-president of the American Farm School in Thessalonica, whose farming graduates had assisted in his wartime escape.

He retired in 1974 to the family home in St Andrews and acted for a time as development consultant to St Andrews University. Also, following a life-time interest in the Bible, he spent a number of years writing his own reflections on St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Entitled Reading in Romans, it was printed privately in 1993.

Howell had been a member of the Royal and Ancient Gold Club, St Andrews, since 1947 and served on the St Andrews Links Management Committee from 1978-81. He was also a member of the Economic Club of Detroit and the New Club in Edinburgh. He was a member of Royal Institute of International Affairs, the Royal United Service Institution, the Royal Air Force Club and the RAF Escaping Club. He was also a member of the St Andrews branch of the Royal British Legion and of St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, St Andrews.

He is survived by his wife, Wanda, whom he married in 1964, and sisters, Anne and Isabel and brother, David.

Wing Commander Edward A Howell, OBE, DFC; born 22 March 1912; died 4 August 2000, in hospital in St Andrews, aged 88.

First published in The Scotsman, 23 August 2000. A similar obituary appeared in The Herald, Glasgow, on 12 August 2000, written by Douglas Millar.

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