Researched and written by Anne Wright
Gunner A S Brown
248th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
Killed in action, 12.10.1917
Arthur Selby Brown’s paternal family were weavers from Bethnal Green in the east end of London. However, his father, James William, at the time of his marriage on 17 June 1874 to Caroline Bell at Holy Trinity Church in Islington, was a farrier as was his father-in-law, Henry Bell. The couple settled in Kingston upon Thames where Arthur, the fourth of their five children was born on 8 December 1887; he was baptised on 7 February 1890 at St. Paul’s Church, Kingston Hill. In 1911 Arthur, a former pupil of St James’ School (Baker Street), was an assistant in a butcher’s shop and was a lodger with the Warne family of Berwick Villa, Monument Green in Weybridge. He and Edith Eliza Warne married at St. James’ Church in the town on Boxing Day, 1912. They had two children: Florence Edith, born on 5 November 1913 in Farnham and Harold Arthur born on 6 January 1917 in Weybridge.
Arthur enlisted in Weybridge. He became a member of the 248th Siege Battery which arrived in France on 16 February 1916. A siege battery had heavy howitzers which used large calibre, highly explosive shells to target the enemy’s heavy artillery and fixed strong points such as railways. In October 1917 the British were engaged in a series of ‘bite and hold’ actions against the German front line with the intention of controlling ridges to the south and east of Ypres. The use of heavy artillery was a vital to this strategy. Two attacks were made on 9 October (Battle of Poelcapelle) and 12 October (first Battle of Passchendaele) towards Passchendaele Ridge. Arthur may well have been part of the preliminary bombardment by 3000 guns on 12 October, the day of his death. These two battles failed to achieve their objectives in part because the heavy artillery was nullified by the muddy conditions after days of persistent rainfall. It was difficult to maintain stable platforms for the guns, men could be standing up to their waists in water, and the shells when they landed in the mud sometimes did not explode or if they did the shock was absorbed by the mud. The field drainage system had been destroyed by the constant shelling around Ypres.
Arthur died in a phase of the third Battle of Ypres (31 July – 6 November 1917) which is commonly referred to as ‘Passchendaele’ and has become synonymous with the horrors of war on the Western Front. He is buried in Hooge Crater Cemetery (XV.D.16) which is 4 km east of Ypres (now Ieper). Both his children survived to the 21st Century: Harold died in 2000 and Florence in 2010. His wife, Edith, remained a widow for 57 years and died in Hersham aged 86 on 30 March 1974.
Brown Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – The Siege Batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk