Rees Howells was born on October 10th, 1879 in the mining village of Brynamman. He and his ten siblings were brought up in a small cottage; his father was employed in the iron works and later in a coal mine. They were godly family, and Howells remembered his mother in later life for the love she showed him. Rees was educated in the village school until he was twelve when he started work in the tin mill. He and his brothers all felt the need for more education, so they attended night classes in the village.
Rees' love for the Lord probably came about through the influence of his grandparents who lived in the Black Mountains. He used to say that going into their cottage was like passing from earth to heaven. They were converted in the 1859 revival. Rees’ father brought the children up on Bible stories and somehow these, together with the influence of his grandparents, helped to prepare him for the work he was to do. He was clearly set apart; the hand of God was on him. He did not get involved with the same activities as the local youth; he once went to a football match, but he realised that the atmosphere there was not right for him so he pledged that he would never go to another one, and he didn't. Unlike most young people, Rees had a very sensitive conscience. Once his father asked him to deliver some shoes to a customer (his father had opened a shoe shop). He asked the customer for 1s 10d, knowing full well that the cost was 1s 9d, spent the extra penny on apples. He confessed his sin to his father, but even so, this act 'haunted' him for some time, especially when he saw apples. It is a wonderful thing for a young person to be so sensitive to what is right and what is wrong; Holy Spirit had caught hold of him. Rees was at home in the chapel, prayer meetings and in the beautiful valleys.