Private John William Brown
12951, 8th Bn., Leicestershire Regiment
who died on 21st March 1918, aged 34
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorials
Staveley Parish Memorial
Pozieres Memorial Panel 29 and 30
When JOHN WILLIAM BROWN was born in early 1883 in Eckington, his father, Thomas, was 27 years old and his mother, Lucy, was 18. Thomas was a coal miner and originated from Lincolnshire whilst Lucy hailed from Nottinghamshire.
John was the eldest of the four children to be born in Eckington and was followed by Alice in 1885, Lucy in 1890 and Minnie in 1894.
The family moved to Barrow Hill when John was about 16 years old and lived at number 226, one of the later block houses to have been built below the Long Row. These cottages had a scullery, a living room and three bedrooms. At that time, all of the cottages had ash pans and middens and water was accessed from a standpipe shared between three families.
It was whilst the Browns lived here that the family increased with the births of Thomas in 1899 and Sarah in 1900. Both John and his father, Thomas, worked in the collieries belonging to the Staveley Coal and Iron Company; Thomas as a coal hewer and John as a miner’s labourer.
Emily Silvers was born in Worcestershire and both she and John were 20 years old when they married on 27th June 1903. They were living in Eckington when their first child, Harold William, was born in 1904.
By 1907, the young couple had moved back to Barrow Hill and made their home at number 193, a cottage on the Long Row Terraces. Emily’s daughter, Annie Ramsdale, from a previous relationship, lived with them and it was here that their children Edmund (1907), Gladys May (1910) and Winifred (1914) were born. Winnie was just 4 months old when war was declared. John enlisted soon afterwards on 1st October 1914 at Chesterfield. He was 31 years old with a wife and five children when he joined the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) as a Private with the service number 7580.
Later the same week, on 7th October, he was transferred to “B” Company, 8th (Service) Bn., Leicestershire Regiment and his service number was changed to 12951. The Battalion had been formed at Leicester in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s 3rd Army and attached as Army Troops to the 23rd Division. In April 1915 they transferred to the 110th Brigade in the 37th Division and in July 1916 were transferred again to the 21st Division (Fifth Army).
When he enlisted, John was described as 5’5 ¾ tall, weighing 134lbs with blue eyes and brown hair. He declared his religion to be Church of England.
John’s service record shows that he was based in England until the 28th July 1915 and that he embarked for France on the 29th, where he served on the Somme and where his division was involved in the Battles of Albert, Bazentin Ridge, Flers-Courcelette, Morval in which the Division captured Geudecourt and Le Transloy.
It is likely that John was either wounded in action in late December or suffered other effects of the war. A casualty form in his records shows that he was on leave in England from the 1st to 13th January 1917 and that he then joined the School of Instruction (Senior Officers Course) at Aldershot as a servant to Temporary Major H. L. Beardsley.
John returned to the field on 7th April 1917, just two days before his division was involved in the Arras Offensive taking part in the Battles of the Scarpe and the flanking operations around Bullecourt in May.
John’s previously clean conduct sheet was marred a week later when, on 21st May, he had to forfeit 14 days’ pay for being absent from Tattoo Roll Call at 9pm, until apprehended at 9.30pm; being in town without a pass and drunkenness. We cannot begin to imagine the horrors that John had faced during the previous weeks that led to this one lapse.
From September 1917, John’s division was involved in the Battles of Polygon Wood, Broodseinde and Passchendaele and in the Cambrai Operations. Prior to the 1918 Battles of the Somme, John was on leave behind the lines from the 6th to 21st March when the Germans launched Operation Michael and the Battle of St Quentin began.
This account of the action in which John William Brown was killed is taken from here.
On 21st March 1918 the German Army launched a large-scale offensive against the Allied front on the Somme battlefield. This offensive was codenamed Operation Michael, and was the first of several attacks to be made against the Allies on the northern part of the Western Front in the spring of 1918.
With 72 German divisions in positions ready to attack in three waves, thousands of infantrymen from three German Armies left the German Front Line after a five hour artillery bombardment by over 6,600 artillery pieces. Some 3.2 million shells were destined to land on the British-held front during that first day of the attack. To the German’s advantage there was fog in the Somme battlefield sector, enabling the infantry to appear in the British forward positions without being seen to leave the German trenches.
The southern part of the British front held by Fifth Army was successfully broken by the German Eighteenth Army and the left wing of Second Army. Their troops advanced through the British Battle Zone in the forward area of the Front Line.
John William Brown was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of St Quentin, on 21st March 1918, aged 34, along with 61 other casualties from the Leicestershire Regiment, who died on the same day.
With no known grave, John is remembered with honour on the Pozieres Memorial.
John William Brown was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
John William Brown’s daughter Gladys Arthington (on the right)
© Ann Lucas