Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Henry Howard DSO, MC (and Bar); born 1915, died May 6, 2000
The death of Frederick Henry Howard, the former Laird of the Hebridean island of Gometra has robbed Scotland of a largely uncelebrated soldier who spent much of the first part of his life fighting in horrific situations and almost all of the second part living in seclusion in the Hebrides. Colonel Henry was born in 1915, the son of a naval officer. After school at Gresham's he was upset to be told that he would be unlikely to pass into Dartmouth. Undaunted, he tried for Sandhurst and confounded his critics by achieving the 16th highest mark of an entry of over 100. This was perhaps typical of a self-effacing gentleman whose shy manner often suggested to onlookers that he was not as intelligent as he was. His military career was remarkable in the massive extent of the active service it involved and in a huge diversity of theatres of war. Having joined the ''Buffs'' (the Royal East Kent Regiment) in 1936, he served in both Palestine and Kenya, being twice wounded and receiving his first Military Cross while he was still in his early twenties. Four years later, the outbreak of war saw him in Somalia and Abyssinia from where he was mentioned in despatches, then came the harrowing Western Desert campaign in North Africa where he soldiered all the way from Alamein to Tunisia, winning his second Military Cross along the way. This action however, was a mere curtain-raiser to his active involvement in some of the most brutal fighting of the war as he led the ''Ox and Bucks'' (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire) all the way from Normandy through the Reichwald to Hamburg. With the desperate Germans fighting with their backs to their homes, the casualties were considerable and his achievement in surviving both mentally and physically through so many years of desperate conflict was remarkable. Although a career soldier to the core, by 1953 he was war weary and left the Army at 38 to marry his very gentle wife the Honourable Jean, daughter of Lady Congleton, the Laird of the tiny isle of Ulva. He immediately adored the serenity of this paradise island that has been called ''the garden of the Hebrides'' and soon afterwards bought its neighbour, Gometra, which is only divided from Ulva by a short bridge. The gentle Colonel Henry then spent 30 years on Gometra and acquired a hard-won reputation as a gentleman laird, who had a greater empathy with his Gaelic staff and tenants than many of his blustering, often non-resident, fellow lairds on neighbouring Mull. The happy couple had four children. Rose, Jamie, Johnny, and Sandy, who pre-deceased him. The land on Gometra is both rough and hilly and the soil demanding, but the tranquil Colonel Henry treated his hill farm with such care that it was once remarked that he was more of a gardener than a farmer. In explanation to his wife, he said that it was probably because he had seen so much destruction during the war that he took such a deep delight in seeing things growing in tranquillity. Gometra was soon producing sheep and cattle of a superior quality to the beef of many of the other islands and the reputation of these was soon enjoined to the fame of the Highland Cattle fold that was being developed at great expense by his mother-in-law on nearby Ulva and together these animals brought much approbation to the family. Later, his wife inherited the island of Ulva with its lusher paddocks and enchanted woodland glades and in 1979 the pair moved there and were shortly afterwards joined by their soldier son Jamie, who became their island manager. During the last 20 years of his life, Colonel Henry seldom stirred from his island home, recently claiming that he had only spent one night away in the previous 14 years. His hobbies were fishing, climbing, and his family, and in his final years he became a popular if slightly eccentric, rope- belted figure who was sometimes seen splashing happily through the pot-holed roads of Ulva on a scarred all-terrain-quad that he nicknamed ''Big Red''. Colonel Henry died on a perfect May day with his beloved home surrounded by bluebells and shortly after having delightedly taken delivery of a doocot that had been made by his friend, Ted Jones, for his tumbler doves. He'll be remembered with affection and admiration in croft and castle alike and in the homes of those with whom he served.