Second Lieutenant Harold Vernon Brown

Researched and written by Anne Wright

2nd Lt H V Brown
8th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Killed in action, 3.5.1917
Age, 25

Harold Vernon Brown was the only son of school teachers. He had two younger sisters and the three siblings were all born in Weybridge. Harold’s father, Edgar Weston Brown (1860-1917) was the son of a railway stationmaster and his mother Susan Amelia Badge (1864-1947) the daughter of a shoemaker. The couple married at St. Alphege’s Church in Greenwich on 11 September 1890 and their first home was in the School House in Baker Street, Weybridge. Harold was born on 18 July 1891 and baptised at St. James’ Church a few weeks later on 12 September. By 1901 Edgar Brown was the Head Teacher of the Girls’ and Infants’ School in Baker Street and in 1911 the family had moved to ‘Lulworth’ in Minorca Road. At this date Harold, a former pupil of the boys section of the school in Baker Street (St James’ School) was employed as a clerk by the Law Society.

His military experience began as a Private (1142) in the Middlesex Regiment, he then transferred to the 8th Battalion (Bn.), of the East Surrey Regiment and was attached to the 11th Bn., the Royal Fusiliers as a Liaison Officer in October 1916. The 8th Surreys (55th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division) had fought through phases of the Battle of the Somme and would go on to fight in the 1917 operations on the Ancre and the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. Harold must have relished the prospect of the 12 days home leave he was granted on 16 December 1916. However, his return to the front was delayed as a result of attending a Medical Board in England in January 1917. His father died whilst he was in Weybridge and he attended the funeral at St James’ Church on 9 March. Harold finally returned to the 8th Surreys on 17 April, a day of heavy rain on which they received a warning order to prepare to move to billets in or around Bethune. The battalion arrived at Bethune on 21 April and a week later were in Arras and moved immediately to Neuville Vitasse (south-east of Arras) where they were accommodated in Telegraph Hill Trench, part of the Hindenburg Line; they were to take part in the second Battle of Arras (9 April-16 June 1917). They moved to the front line and support trenches on 1 May opposite the village of Cherisy. On the 2 May the battalion was subjected to intermittent enemy shell fire and sniper activity as final preparations were made for the attack on Cherisy on 3 May.

There was no moon so it was a very dark night and within a few minutes there was considerable confusion partly caused by the shrapnel barrage not starting in unison. Advancing rear waves caught up with the leading waves and Harold and his fellow officers found it very difficult to keep their commands together. However, they were able to advance to their first objective with relatively little opposition; the bulk of the enemy between them and Cherisy ran away. The same pattern was repeated when a second attack was launched. The tide started to turn at about 7 am when 35 out of 50 men entering the northern end of Cherisy were cut down by machine gun fire. Low flying enemy aircraft were able to light up British positions which came under heavy machine gun and shell fire. At about 7.45 am the Germans began to reoccupy the village using staged bombardments and with the British in danger of being outflanked the retreat was ordered.

The 8th Bn., the East Surreys had sustained 394 casualties of which 13 were officers. 2/Lt Harold Vernon Brown was one of the fatalities. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial (Bay 6) Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in the west of Arras. The second Battle of Arras failed in its main objective to make a strategically significant breakthrough.

Harold’s mother moved to Sussex where she died on 11 May 1947. His sister Doris married George Tappin in November 1918 and emigrated to New Zealand the following year where Harold’s two nieces and a nephew were born.

Sources:

Boland Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – 18th (Eastern) Division, www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/18th-eastern-division/
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk

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