Eltham Bryan Brown

Brown, Eltham Bryan, Private, d. 26th October 1917, age 23.

Eltham Bryan Brown was born in Christchurch, Hampshire on 5th December 1893. Brian served as Brien Brown, but in census records his name is always spelled Brian. He is Brian on the Wootton Bassett Roll of Honour which would have been approved by his parents, so I suspect that Brian was his preferred spelling, but we will never know for sure.

Brian’s father Frederick John Brown and his mother Florence Martha, née Elsworth, had four sons, Hedley, Brian, Albert (Bertie), and Alan, and two daughters, 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 Brian was living with his family in Cold Overton. He was 17 and working as a motor groom. In October 1914 he married Ethel Marriott, who was already pregnant. Their son, Cecil Hedley Brown, was born on 26th December 1914, his middle name a tribute to Brian’s brother Hedley, who had been killed three months earlier, on 22nd September 1914. When he was baptised in January 1915, Brian and Ethel’s address is given as 4 Trafford’s Yard, Northgate Street, Oakham, and Brian’s occupation as a Mail Driver.

While Brian remained in Oakham with his new wife, his family moved away, first briefly, in 1914, to the gardener’s cottage at Gaynes Hall, St Neots, Huntingdon. Later in 1914, they moved to Seagry, near Chippenham. Here their younger daughter, 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.

Brian enlisted in the 2nd Royal Marines Battalion of the Royal Marines Light Infantry, (PLY/1413/S), on 16th February 1916. The source for this information is Jack Marshall’s ‘Great Britain, Royal Naval Division Casualties of The Great War, 1914-1924′. (Note that this differs from the Grantham Journal, which states that Brian joined up on February 14th 1915). The home address given on Brian’s naval papers was 11 New Street, Oakham.

The RMLI was a land based service. Shortly after Brian joined up, on 29th April 1916, the division transferred from the authority of the Admiralty to that of the War Office and it was re-designated as the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division on 19th July 1916.

Brian went out to France with the 2nd Royal Marines Battalion on the 2nd August 1916 and was drafted into the Expeditionary Force in France on the 22nd November 1916. He served from the 8th to the 27th of December 1916, when he was invalided home suffering with ‘pyrexia of unknown origin’. This refers to a condition in which the patient has an high temperature for which no explanation has been found. He rejoined his Battalion on the 23rd February 1917. He was invalided again on 11th May 1917 (Inflamation of the Connective Tissue, Legs, and rejoined on the 28th June 1917.

The Royal Marines’ battalion war diary tells us that the Marines went into the front line at Irish Farm near St Jean on the 25th October. The following morning was the first bloody day of the Second Battle of Passchendaele. The Marines went into action at 5.40am. The war diary records:

Battalion attacked enemy’s position opposite its front in conjunction with other battalions of 188th Infantry Brigade. Objectives gained and consolidated. Casualties 7 Officers and 301 Other Ranks.

Brian was one of those 301 men, wounded and missing in action. Brian’s body was never recovered. His death was finally confirmed eight months after he went missing in action. The Grantham Journal of Saturday 15 June 1918 reports:

Oakham Soldier Killed in Action
Mrs Brown of 11 New Street, Oakham, has now received news that her husband, Pte B Brown, of the RMLI, was killed in action on October 26th 1917. He had been previously reported as missing and wounded. Pte Brown joined the RMLI on February 14th 1915 and went to France on November 24th of the same year. Prior to enlistment he was employed on the Royal Mail for the Oakham Post Office.

Brian’s wife Ethel places a memorial notice in the Grantham Journal. She wrote:

In loving memory of my dear husband, Pte. B Brown, 11 New Street, Oakham, missing since Oct 26th 1917, now reported killed on that date.
It may be a soldier’s honour
To die at his country’s call
But ’tis hard to think of the glory
With the sorrow it brought us all.
As the midnight stars are gleaming
O’er a grave a cannot see,
There sleeping, without dreaming,
Lies the dearest one to me.
From his ever-loving wife Ethel, and his little son, Cecil.

Brian is commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial, Panel 1, 162A. Brian received the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal.

Brian’s parents also added Brian 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.

Grave of Ella Brown at Seagry Church

The Browns lost three sons in the war. They became such a respected family in the town that it was Mrs Brown who was invited to open the Red Triangle Memorial Institute in Station Road, (near to where the Memorial Hall stands today). The Browns remained in the town for the rest of their lives. Frederick eventually retired from the pub and in his latter years he was an auxiliary postman. In 1936 he was taken ill at 156 High Street (which was probably divided into apartments at that time). He was rushed to the Royal Infirmary, Bristol where he spent the next three weeks, before returning to Wootton Bassett, where he died a week later.

Ethel remarried in 1920, to William Skillett, a groom who had served in the Lincolnshire Regiment throughout the war, and had a gun shot wound to his face. Ethel had two more children with William: Keilion and Maureen. It appears that Cecil didn’t have a secure childhood. In April 1922 his stepfather William was fined 5 shillings for failing to ensure that Cecil attended school. In February 1926 he was fined again. 11 year old Cecil had attended school only 42 times out of a possible 104. In April 1939 at the age of 24 Cecil stole some leather gloves. The court was sympathetic and put Cecil on probation for two years. Cecil served in the Leicestershire Regiment and the Army Service Corps in WW2 and died in Essex in 1997.

Many thanks to Rutland Remembers for the use of the portrait of Brian Brown. This was sourced from the Grantham Journal and later published in the 1920 book “Rutland and the Great War”. It has been digitally enhanced by Rutland Remembers.

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