12 September 2012

18592 L/Cpl H Brown

Henry Arthur Brown was from Barking and grew up at 25 Barking Place.

He was one of the original volunteers to the West Ham Battalion and enlisted at East Ham around late March 1915. I've not been able to discover his job before the war (yet) as there were so many lads named Henry Brown in and around West Ham, Forest Gate, Leyton and Barking on the 1911 census. A very popular name!

Henry entered France with the Hammers, onboard the Princess Victoria, on 17th November, 1915.

With the others he adjusted to life in the trenches of the Western Front.

On the 2nd of July 1916 he wrote home to his mother, "just a few lines in answer to your kind and welcome letter...."

The letter paper would have been given to him by the Hammers Padre at the Front, the Reverend Westerdale. He was another original, a local Wesleyan with his church in Stratford Grove.

In the letter Henry also sent his thanks to a relative, Ted, for some nut brownies sent out to the Front for him. It was obviously a favourite, or perhaps just a small reminder of the old ways of peaceful civilian life before the war: "tell him I shall never forget him for it..."

2nd of July, 1916... The West Ham Battalion were in a happy mood at this time, as (overnight) they had just conducted a very successful trench raid on the German lines which had resulted in the awarding of three Military Cross, a Distinguished Conduct Medal and a clutch of the Military Medal for the Hammers. Fifty miles from their positions, the first day of the Somme battles had begun. The artillery barrages could be heard back in Barking but Henry's letter sent the usual reassurances to his family.

Little was he to know that by the end of the month he would be under constant shellfire at Delville Wood, blocking the intense German efforts to recapture the shattered tree-stumps and crumped trenches. Many of the Hammers were sent completely mad by the horrific experience and were shipped home. Still in the trenches Henry wrote more letters and, no doubt, tried not to worry his mum.

By November, he was taking part in the Hammers attack against a position known as "the Quadrilateral". Hung up in the mud and the wire, the West Ham Battalion was decimated by machine gun fire. The sheer volume of killed, wounded and missing was incredible.

His mum would have feared the worst while hoping for the best as dad George opened the telegram delivered a few weeks before Christmas. It was a 'Missing' telegram but eventually another dreaded knock at the door delivered a last sorrow...

Finally, as the shelling stopped two years later and peace once again returned to France and Belgium, Henry's family had one small comfort.

His body had been found on the battlefield and he had at least been given a decent burial, just one of a very few from that terrible night of November 13th.

images are courtesy of Simon Beard, Gt-Gt-Nephew of Henry Brown
to whom I send sincere thanks for sharing this sad memento