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Val Howells

Valentine  Noel  Howells
A résumé of my life by Val Howells

Born June 23rd 1926, in Port Talbot, South Wales (but maternal grandfather hailed from Gloucestershire and maternal grandmother from Manchester).
Father left home three months after his son was born, and never returned.
Difficult times for his mother, who was left without visible means of support in a society that, at the time (mid 1920s) gave very little help to single-parent families.
The situation was saved by Valentine David Jones, the husband of one of Marie Howells’ half-sisters. He and his wife were childless, and they took their newly-arrived nephew into their home and lavished a great deal of care and affection on the lad. There was no official adoption, probably because Billy Howells (the boy’s father) raised objection to that procedure.
Valentine David Jones’ various business interests prospered, and he became a significant and wealthy member of the local community, to the extent that he decided he could well afford to pay for the private education of his wife’s nephew.

Prior to the 2nd World War, young Val (his name was shortened, to differentiate him from the ‘Valentine’ already in the family) was encouraged to enter for the Dartmouth Naval College entrance exam, which he passed with flying colours, and it looked as if a career in the Royal Navy was realistic prospect. However, even though he had passed the stringent medical tests, which included that of eyesight, at the final hurdle he was turned down because he had one oddly defective eye.
In the event, Valentine David Jones packed his nephew off to Bromsgrove School, an establishment which could trace its origin back to the middle 1500s (it was a founder-member of the Public Schools Headmasters Conference, with all the prestige that accolade bestows). All to no avail; young Val was a rebellious student - dubbed ‘a fully paid up member of the awkward squad’ - and it wasn’t long before his outrageous behaviour, and constant requests to be allowed to leave school and go to sea, led to that development.
This was in 1943, and in not much more than a year, the young man found himself serving aboard a merchant vessel which had been commandeered to play the role of an armed depot ship during the Allied invasion of Normandy. She lasted less than two weeks, before being blown up by a magnetic mine. There were casualties among the Royal Marine landing craft crews who were based aboard the vessel. But even  that disaster had what could be described as a beneficial ending, because it led, some time later, to an easy accommodation with Lt Colonel  H.G. ‘Blondie’ Hasler RM (the Cockleshell Hero) when he came to know that one of his Royal Marine fellow-officers had also served on the same vessel as V.N.H. during the Normandy campaign.

After the war, Valentine David Jones, who had a farming background, bought a farm (Redstone Farm: not far from where we are now) and asked young Val to manage it for him, which, let’s face it, was nothing less than an extravagant leap of faith. But, again, it turned out well, because it led to the meeting, and marrying of Eira Margaret Phillips, a union which produced three children and lasted 57 eventful years, coming to an end on the 22nd of January, 2009 when she died, unexpectedly, of a ruptured aneurysm.
During that marriage, the couple established, and ran, three restaurants, all of which featured in one Good Food Guide of another. They purchased, and renovated, two farms, one of which carried, amongst the normal stock, a riding stable that catered for handicapped children.
Val also established a small business, based at Hobbs Point, Pembroke Dock. This enterprise was known as ‘Point Marine’ and, amongst other things ran small rescue boats and serviced yachting and commercial life rafts.
During that time, the facilities available at Point Marine were adapted to teach disadvantaged children to sail; and then, when that was thought rather too ‘easy’, Val set up the Cleddau Amateur Rowing Club, which offered sliding-seat rowing, coastal and river (together with the mental discipline this demanding sport requires).
It was about this time, that one of the children (Rosemarie Ann, who had married an Australian, and moved to Sydney) was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
The disease progressed at an alarming rate and the decision was taken to sell-up in the U.K. and move to Australia, in order to help her. However, she entered the malignant stage of MS, and was brought back to the U.K., where she ultimately died. She was cremated, and now has her entry, along with her mother, and mother-in-law, in the Commemorative Book which is feature of this establishment.

Along the way, Val hunted with five packs - the South Pembrokeshire, the Pembrokeshire, the Vale of Clettwr (the Jones Boys, up on the hill), John Dix’s private pack of foxhounds (sometimes met in Strata Florida) and, ultimately, with Lady Pryce-Pryce - who didn’t ride herself, but kept a few couple of hounds for the entertainment of her friends.

There was also a bit of sailing, with Val taking part in the first single-handed transatlantic race in 1960; competed again in 1964; and again in 1976, in a boat he and his son built (two identical 38 foot ocean racing yachts – a major undertaking, by any standard). After the single-handed race, Val sailed around the world – one of the few people to do so in a craft devoid of an engine, generator, or radio (a mast and sail, a compass, an oil lamp, and a generous supply of matches).
There were five films for the BBC, many radio programmes, three books, and varied journalism for the Western Mail and yachting magazines.

There were a few dull moment – but they didn’t last long.

On Reflection by Mike Richey

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