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Obituary: Mervyn Howell

Bristol Bears regret to announce the death of Mervyn Howell, who enjoyed a distinguished career in senior rugby as a hooker for both Bristol and Bath. Aged 97, he was one of the club’s oldest former players.

Mervyn John Howell was educated at QEH. He played for BAC in the first season after the Second World War, and he then spent two seasons as a Bath player, making 31 first team appearances. At the start of the 1947-48 season he made his Somerset debut in a friendly against Gloucestershire.

This match was arranged as a trial in order to select the combined Gloucestershire and Somerset side which would play the touring Australians at Gloucester on September 20th. Mervyn impressed against Gloucestershire to the extent that he was selected ahead of Bristol’s experienced hooker Fred Hill to play the tourists in a match which the Wallabies won 30-8.

Mervyn hooked for Somerset throughout the 1947-48 County Championship campaign and was awarded his county cap. By the time the season ended he was in the Army, where he continued with his rugby. He was stationed at Reading with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) when he was selected as Lieutenant M J Howell to make his first team debut for Bristol in their home match with Nottingham on October 23rd 1948. This was a day on which Bristol were decimated by county calls, and Mervyn was one of four debutants in the side which defeated Nottingham 19-0 on the Midland club’s first visit to the Memorial Ground.

It was in the 1951-52 season that Mervyn next appeared in a Bristol shirt, and he made an immediate impression. England trialist Don Woodward was the club’s first choice hooker, but Mervyn played so well that he kept Woodward out of the first team for the bulk of the season. He made 32 first team appearances, scoring one try, and he was awarded his first team cap. He also switched his county allegiance to Gloucestershire this season, and he played for his new county at Gloucester in the County Championship match against Dorset & Wilts.

In the 1952-53 season Mervyn played mainly for Bristol United, with Don Woodward once again installed as the club’s main hooker. Centre Michael Corbett was appointed captain of the United for the season, but he spent most of the season in the first team. In his absence, Mervyn captained Bristol United on numerous occasions. It was a wonderful season for the United; only four games were lost, and only Bristol Combination defeated the team at home.

Mervyn played a further ten first team matches in 1952-53, signing off on April 25th when he was part of a winning side at Coventry in the last match of the season. He played for a Bristol XV against a West of England XV four days later in an unofficial fixture to raise funds for the development of the Lockleaze Combination Ground, but he announced his retirement before the start of the next season. In all he played 43 first team games, scoring one try, with an additional 23 games and one try for the United.

Mervyn was a regular spectator at Bristol games for many years, and he could often be found after matches enjoying the company of his playing contemporaries in the Former Players’ bar. He was present at the final Former Players’ reunion at the Memorial Stadium in the 2013-14 season.  David Powell and David Woodward represented Bristol Rugby Former Players at his funeral. All at Bristol Bears send their sincere sympathy to Mervyn’s family at this sad time.       


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