A few weeks ago, Centennial resident Major Donald Howson celebrated his 102nd birthday. When you reach that age, you have seen a lot, and Reverend Howson is no exception. As a full time member of the Canadian military, he has served in WWII and the Korean War and on many Canadian naval bases in Canada and abroad, which has given him a broad perspective on the world.
His military career began in 1944. At that time, Reverend Howson was working quietly in Moncton as a Minister in a local Presbyterian church, but felt his services were also needed elsewhere. While he felt badly abandoning his congregation, he decided to join the Canadian Navy. He spent the next year and a half based in Sydney, Nova Scotia acting as Chaplain for the naval base staff, assigned to the ship called the HMC Protector, which was patrolling the coast off Newfoundland and Cape Breton.
At the end of the hostilities, like many other returning servicemen, Howson took advantage of retraining opportunities offered by the military and completed his training in Toronto and Kingston where he earned the title of Registered Psychologist. He took his Divinity and Psychology training back to where he was most comfortable, leading a church in the Maritimes, this time in Fredericton. In 1950, the Korean War broke out, and continued until 1953. This time, the navy came looking for him. The religious and psychological training made Howson ideally equipped to help Canadian troops stationed in Korea to deal with the emotional trauma triggered by events on and around the battlefield. Besides, he was unmarried, and with fewer ties at home, he was an ideal candidate to go overseas.
Major Howson spent 15 months in Korea, as a member of the Royal Canadian Chaplains Corps, becoming a full-time member of the Canadian army. In Korea, he spent his time with the different battalions just behind the front lines, sometimes housed in tents but other times camped out in a field with the troops. The physical hardships paled when compared to the emotional ones. This was a very difficult assignment, but his combination of religious faith and psychological training helped him to encourage the combatants to cope. Those with a positive attitude and mental toughness coped best, but others suffered from emotional distress we would recognize today symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome.
Before reporting for duty on his return to Canada in 1953, Howson surprised his superiors by showing up with a wife on his arm. The couple was sent to a naval base in Germany, and during the remaining years of his 25 year military career, the Howson family was stationed in many parts of Canada including Montreal, Gagetown and Ottawa.
Upon completion of his 25 years of military service, Reverend Howson returned to his family home in Peterborough and continued a private career for ten years working as a Psychologist for the former Peterborough Civic Hospital.
Major Howson is a traditional man. A loyal monarchist, he insists that our Constitutional Monarchy is the best form of government; one that provides stability and democracy. He was unimpressed with the unification of the various branches of the Canadian Armed forces, a move he believes diluted the loyalty of members to their regiments.
Major Reverend Howson prefers the uniform of his former regiment. But don’t think of him as all business- this man has a sense of humour. He was wearing a different uniform on Halloween when he was seen wearing a princess tiara! On November 11th, he will be back in his military uniform participating in the Peterborough Remembrance Day service with other members of Unit 8 out of Peterborough. Thanks for your dedication to our country and our community. KG