Private Alan Brown, Killed in Action, 10th July 1918, age 19 years.
Alan was born in Christchurch, Hampshire in the closing months of 1898. He was the youngest son of Frederick John Brown and Florence Martha, née Elsworth. He was the last of three brothers who lost their lives in the Great War. Alan had three older brothers, Hedley, Brian, and Albert (Bertie), and two sisters, Florence Irene, known as Irene, and later as Florrie, and Ella Freda, the youngest, who was born in 1912. In the 1890s the family lived at Beech House, Christchurch, Hampshire, and by 1901 they had moved to Garden House, Cold Overton, near to Oakham in Leicestershire, where Frederick was a domestic gardener.
In 1911 Alan was living with his family in Cold Overton. He was 12 and still at school. Alan and his family moved briefly, in 1914, to the gardener’s cottage at Gaynes Hall, St Neots, Huntingdon. Later in 1914, they moved to Seagry, near Chippenham. Here Alan’s youngest sister, little Ella, died, and was buried in Seagry Churchyard. The Browns arrived in Wootton Bassett in about February 1915. In March 1916 the courts transferred the licence of the Cross Keys to Arthur Duck of the brewers Duck and Reed, and Arthur installed Frederick as the new manager. A year later, on February 10th 1917, Frederick applied to transfer the license from Mr Duck to himself. Superintendent Millard confirmed that Frederick had managed the pub for some time and that since his arrival there had been a great improvement in the conduct of the house. He hoped that this would continue.
Alan enlisted in Chippenham. He first joined the 210th Training Reserve Battalion, 8/9134. The 210th was a Graduated Battalion, and was formed in May 1917 from the 37th 9th (Reserve) Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment. The Graduated Battalions were those to which young recruits were sent when they had finished training in a Young Soldier Battalion. Each Graduated Battalion consisted of four companies organised into 3 month age brackets, for young men between 18 and 19 years. Every 3 months 28 companies of newly trained soldiers were ready for drafting to the front. The Battalion was based at Wool, near Bovington.
Alan went on to become a Private in the 8th (Service) Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, 28341. Until 1916 the battalion was part of the 63rd Brigade, 21st Division. On the 8th of July 1916 the battalion transferred with 63rd Brigade to 37th Division. From 1st July to 18th November 1916 the 8th SLI fought in the Battle of the Somme. In 1917 they took part in the Arras Offensive and the Third Battle of Ypres. In 1918 they returned to The Somme seeing action in the The Battle of the Ancre, from the 5th of April 1918.
Alan was a stretcher bearer. The War Diary reads:
On the night of 7th/8th July the Battalion was relieved from the front line by the 13th Battalion KRRC, and on completion of the relief moved back to the Valley Camp at Souastre. On the night of 10th/11th July the Battalion evacuated Valley Camp. Our B Company relieved D Company of the 6th Lincolnshire Regiment in the Chateau de la Haye Switch Line with Company Headquarters at E.19.a.8.7. The remainder of the Battalion moved into billets at Souastre.”
Alan was killed in action in France on July 10th 1918, while waiting to bring in the wounded. Captain H Pople (I believe this was Acting Captain Herbert Keith Pople) wrote to Alan’s parents:
Your son has always done excellent work as one of my most valuable stretcher-bearers, and he was killed by a shell while he was standing by waiting to render assistance to anyone who required it while the company was working in a rather dangerous spot, so he can truly be said to have been killed in action. It will comfort you a little in these sad days for you, I am sure, to know that death was instantaneous, as when the nearest men rushed to him they found that he had passed away, so we know that he was spared that lingering pain which so many are called upon to bear in this terrible war. We all miss him greatly, as he was dearly loved by all his comrades, being most kind and attentive to all the sick and wounded whom he was called upon to assist, and I look upon his death as a great loss to the company, and am able to sympathise with you to the fullest degree in the loss of such a noble son. We buried him this afternoon with full military honours, and the funeral was attended by over 100 of his comrades, who begged me to allow them to attend and pay their last respects. I am arranging to have a nice cross put up over the grave where he lies, and of course the cemetery will be looked after for ever, as one of the sacred places in France.
The Reverend T B Harding, a chaplain, wrote:
It will be a great help to you to think both of the fine work he has done and of the splendid name he has left in the battalion. Stretcherbearers are picked men who have some of the most important and dangerous work to do. The Medical Officer under which they work has said that your son was quite one of his best, and this is heartily agreed to by officers and men alike of his own company, among whom and his fellow-bearers he was very popular. He was buried in the presence of a large number of his comrades in a military cemetery with full military honours. He was borne on a limber [a two wheeled artillery cart] draped with the Union Jack. Stretcher bearers formed the carrying party. The band followed and played on the march, and at the graveside, where the hymn, ‘Now the labourer’s task in o’er,’ was sung, a firing party fired three volleys and the buglers sounded the ‘last post’. With much sympathy and gratitude for what your son has done for our country and the cause of righteousness and justice among nations.
Alan Brown is buried in Couin New British Cemetery, France, a military cemetery used by field ambulances, grave reference F5.
Alan was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.
His parents also added him to his little sister’s gravestone in Seagry, which reads: “In loving memory of our dear children, Ella, Hedley, Brian and Alan Brown. 1914-1918.” My thanks to Julia Harle and Seagry Church for identifying and photographing the gravestone.