My Uncle Bert – Sgt 8060 Herbert Brown

 This is a Guest Article from Stuart Brown.  Stuart’s Uncle Herbert (Bert) Brown was an original member of 17th Manchesters and attached to 90th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery, in the spring of 1916.  The personal story records the long-term impact on the Brown family; after Bert was killed at Manchester Hill in the German Spring Offensive.  With some additional research, some further information (shown in italics) establishes the wider picture of Bert’s service record.

‘Memory like the Ivy clings’

Manchester Evening News 10 April 1918

Manchester Evening News 10 April 1918. Courtesy British Library

 My Uncle Bert

100 years ago on 11th November 1918[1] at 11 am the 1stWW hostilities ended, but it was not until  the 28th June 1919 that Peace was declared after the signing of ‘The Treaty of Versailles’.

The human cost of the 1stWW was estimated at 40M Soldiers and Civilians either Killed or Wounded.  British casualties estimates were 700,000 Killed and around 2M wounded. These numbers are so large, it is difficult to comprehend them. Over the 4 yrs and 3 months of the war, the death toll was about 165,000/yr which is equivalent to 3,167/wk or 452/day this is still too large to imagine.

War is personal, each person that died was a family member a husband,a son,a brother,a nephew a cousin,an uncle or a friend or neighbour, so you can see that for every death many more people were affected by their loss.

This is a story about 2 brothers, who both served in the 1st WW. my Father and his brother, my Uncle Bert. [2] My Father told me the story.

I knew from an early age that my Father had lost a Brother in the 1st WW. After the 2nd WW, when the Remembrance Day Parades restarted, my Father would take us into Manchester to watch the parade, he would always cry when WW1 Manchester Veterans passed by us. Our Mother explained that it was because he had lost his Brother and many friends in the 1st WW, but our Father never elaborated and it was not until he came to live with us, in the last few years of his long 91yr life that the story unfolded. He had brought with him 2 boxes of family memorabilia that had passed to him when his Father died.

Like most Veterans he did not talk much about his war experiences, he said ”Who would want to relive those horrendous times” but eventually in his final years he did tell me about the loss of his Brother and he showed me his Mothers Birthday Keepsake Book etc. which gave me an insight to the grief that she bore on the loss of her son.

Herbert & John Brown

This is the 2 brothers, my Father on the left [3] and Uncle Bert on the right [4].

Bert volunteered for the Manchester Regiment on the 2nd of September 1914[5] age 24 this was only 5 weeks after the start of war on the 28th July 1914.[6]

After  months of training at Lark Hill Camp, Salisbury Plain, he was probably in France by early 1915 [7].  He adapted quickly to Army life since he was the latest of a long line of Brown family members to be in the Military that stretched back to the Peninsular War of 1808.[8]

V Pln Photo

V Platoon, B Company of 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment.

P1030686

Private Herbert Brown 8060 on Guard Duty at Heaton Park; October 1914-January 1915. This is the period between which the huts were built and navy “Tram Guards” uniforms were changed to khaki. TB

pte bert brown

Pte Bert Brown in Tram Guards uniform circa 1915. Note 2nd City Battalion Shoulder Tabs.

pte bert brown circa 1915

Bert Brown circa 1915. His moustache has developed.

This is B Company 5th Platoon 17th Service Battalion The Manchester Regiment, possibly taken at Lark Hill in late 1914[9] before they went to France.  64 Men and Officers. Did they know what horrors lay ahead and how many would return?[10]

Bert disemabarked with 17th Battalion at Boulogne on 8th November 1915.  On 31st October he had written to his mother, probably a few days after returning from Home Leave in Manchester.  The letter provides an insight to Bert’s Christian Faith , his realistic view of the future risks of hostilities and anticipated restrictions of the censors (Transcribing Bert’s thoughts  and words was a priviledge TB):-


                                                                                                                    Lark Hill
                                                                                                                    31/10/15
Dear Ma/

I am writing you again to-day, not in a very pleasant way for you but it is something that has has to come & I want you & Dad not to stand thinking that I have gone right away  to the firing line because I suppose that that is a long way from us yet.
I want you to pray for the best & that God will guide me through alright.  I will also pray for the same thing, will have to let it rest there & trust in him.
I know it is an unusual thing for me to write in this strain but I think what I have written represents what I think.
It is on special Divisional orders that 30th Div. has to hold itself in readiness for moving overseas by week ending Nov 6th on service we don’t know where to but I think it is France.
If I do get to know I will naturally tell you at once if not I shall try to you when I get out if France I shall begin my first letter from wherever it is with (I) if the Balkans (We) if Dards [Dardanelles / Gallipoli] (Arrived).
I don’t suppose there are any others.
Ex We arrived alright means Balkans.
Comprendez vous?
I am sending you on 2 things I shall not require such as that French book which will come in useful later on, the old vests, the towell, socks & illeg. please send back by return return.  I think it will be in time, if not it will not matter.
I have bought a very useful Franch book for 1/- from Bradshaws London, it is just what I want & fits in the the pocket a treat.
To-day it has done nothing but rain.  I have been Hut orderly so I haven’t been out.
All Div. work is cancelled there is only some Miniature shooting in orders, the rest will be fatigues.
I will write every day this week if anything fresh turns up.
I am also enclosing in the parcel one of those Badges for Annie [Sweetheart?], please give it to her with my  best wishes.
Nothing else this time, please remember what I have written on first page & bear up & pray for peace which I hope will not be very long.
Love to yourself,
Dad, Archie & Annie.
Bert.


IMG_7965

Bert’s final letter home on 15th March 1918. He wanted to go to find Archie before going back to the front.

Life in the trenches was terrible, Soldiers were constantly wet, muddy and unclean for long periods, they were infested with lice ,slept on the ground and their food was always cold, they could not have fires because the smoke would give away their location, and the Rats were always stealing what little food they had.

They usually spent about 8 days on the Front Line and 4 days in the Reserve Trenches, a few miles back from the fighting, but in the periods of heavy fighting they would be on the Front Line for much longer periods.

Bert’s Mothers Keepsake shows that he had his last Leave at Home on 22nd November 1917.   Mary Brown subsequently noted on 7th December 1917 “My dear lad leaves us for the last time, his broken hearted Mother.”  Leave was uncommon amongst the ranks and there is a strong prospect Bert had been sick or wounded before November 1917 and granted 10 days furlough, before returning to the front. The following document confirms Bert was back in France during December 1917. TB

P1030660.1

Sgt Bert Brown was attached to 90th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery (TMB), as part as 30th Division TMB. This message was sent Bert on 25th December 1917, when he was serving in the line near Ypres, with Headquarters and billets at Cafe Belge [19]. 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Frederick Goldsmith was also attached to 90th TMB from 17th Bttn. He wrote “Merry Christmas??? Rations herewith Will you send up return list of men with you – alsp number of your shells – also firing report for last nights. Passwords of Infantry are attached. Is there anything you require? T F Goldsmith”[20]

The Battalion had celebrated Christmas 1914 at Heaton Park.  The Brown family kept the card with Bert’s belongings. TB

If you watched the recent BBC2 excellent television program about the 1st WW, the first episode was about Operation Michael. (See Wikipedia for more information) This was the 1918 Spring German Offensive. The Germans had lost a lot of ground and were determined to retake that ground and push the Allied forces back to

P1030671

8060 Pte Herbert (Bert) Brown -3rd from Left – probably with other members of V Platoon. Training at Heaton Park in tram Guards uniforms 1914. One of the new huts can be seen behind the group.  Sgt Percy Howard Jones (Left side) had been VI Pln Sgt.  He was promoted to CQMS in training and A/CSM of B Coy on the Somme.  He was killed at Flers on 11th October 1916, along side Pte 8230 Alexander (Alec) Mackie, who was a friend of Bert Brown and also a member of Sgt Jones’ VI Coy. TB

the Channel Ports.

The Germans and their allies, had a very large force of 74 Divisions of Soldiers, many of them seasoned troops pulled back from the Russian Front, 10,000 Pieces of Artillery and 326 Plane, spread over a 43mile front. This force greatly outnumbered the British and their allies. The main focus of the attack was between Arras and St Quentin.

Uncle Bert was positioned at Manchester Hill near St Quentin.  Manchester Hill was so named because the Manchester Regiment[11] had captured this strategic high ground 12 months previously and the Germans wanted it back.

The offensive started on the 21st of March 1918  at 4:35 in the morning and continued for 5 hours, in that period 3.5 millions shell were fired by the Germans. I have estimated that was an average of about 13 Shells /min/100yards of front line.

Bert&Alec2

Pte 8230 Alexander (Alec) Mackie (Seated) and Pte 8060 Herbert (Bert) Brown (Standing) Simpson & Son Wharf Road Grantham. Probably taken in Spring/Summer 1915, when the Bttn trained at Belton Park, Grantham. Courtesy Stuart Brown. Alec was killed at Flers on 11th October 1916. TB

The Allied casualty figures were extremely high and over the 16 days of Operation Michael the Allies sustained heavy casualties dead and wounded and thousands of men taken Prisoner. March the 21st was the 2nd worst day in British Military history, 18,000 men were killed or  injured and 21,000 men taken prisoner.[12]

On that day Uncle Bert was on detachment with the 90th Trench Mortar Battery[13] and because of the shortage Officers he was put in charge of a Redoubt of Mortars, they held out all day and delayed the advance of the Germans in their sector until well into the night, when a shell land on top of the Trench and killed every one instantly.

[The 30th Divisional Trench Mortar Battery War Diary recounted events on 21st March 2018.[14]

“Great bombardment broke out along the whole Division front. Orders were given to man Battle Stations.  Enemy infantry advanced to attack at 8.30am in great numbers.  Before the of the day the enemy had penetrated the Battle Positions & all guns captures.  2nd Lieut A W Humphreys [RFA] & 10 men in the EPINE DE DALLON Redoubt were missing.  2nd Lieut V H Neser [RFA[15]] with ten men in the MANCHESTER HILL Redoubt fired his ammunition & after the Redoubt was completely surrounded he & his men broke through and got back to the Battle Position.  He was wounded in the back.  The casualties of the Batteries were Two officers and 19 (24) ORs.”
90th Brigade TMB Battery was commanded by Capt Hugh Albert Hendrie of the  Manchester Regiment.[23]  Four guns were located in the Forward Zone near Manchester Hill, with the remaining four guns in the Battle Zone to the rear. The Battery had 3 [4] officers at duty on 21st March, together with 38 Other Ranks.

Capt Hendrie (Left Forward) and Lieut Walter Evans of 18th Bttn (Right Forward) commanded the Forward Zone guns, in front of Manchester Hill, about 20 Yards behind the front line of resistance.

Second in Command was Lieut Herbert Andrew Hilton, who took responsibility for the Battery HQ and four Battle Zone guns near Etrelliers.  He was supported by Lieut Thomas Goldsmith [20], whose command included Bert’s detachement.

Bert Brown was killed on 21st / 22nd March 1918.  The following plans and records help build a picture of the circumstances and location of his death. TB

90th brigade positions 21st march 1918

90th Brigade positions 21st March 1918. Bert took his mortar battery to the Battle Zone.  Other records indicate his position in the southern sector of the Battle Zone.

Manchester Hill Defences 90th Brigade War Diary

Manchester Hill Defences 90th Brigade War Diary. Trench Mortar positions are noted, in front of Manchester Hill, under the command of Capt Hendrie & Lieut Evans – TB

Mother's Keepsake

This is what Bert’s Mother wrote in her Birthday Keepsake Book on the 21st March 1918. She also wrote about when her sons left to go to war and when they returned on the rare occasions of leave.

 

I found 2 letters sent to Bert’s Mother and Father, the first sent by a fellow Sgt. and the second sent by a 2nd Lt,  both expressing sympathy and their their friendship with Bert.

They also gave some details of the events leading to Bert’s death.  I have transcribed both letters because of their age and legibility.


B.E.F      

29/3/18    

Dear Mr & Mrs Brown

This the first opportunity I have had of writing to you. I am at a loss how to break the sad news to you regarding Bert. It is however a duty which must be performed.

As you know, we in the big action right from the start, the Bosch attacked on the morning of the 21st and Bert was in charge of two Guns, which were doing magnificent work , he held on all day and later on in the night, a Shell came over which struck the parapet of the Trench. Bert was killed instantly along with three other men,  it may console you to know that his death was absolutely painless and instantaneous, he did not suffer for a moment, later on I may be permitted to tell you the place where he died.

I want to tell you how sincerely  I sympathise with you in you heavy trial and I trust that you will find strength to bear the bitter loss. Bert died nobly and fighting till the last.

He was my partner in every thing and his loss leaves me mourning the only friend in the Battery.

Again offering my heartfelt sympathy

I remain.

Yours very sincerely

J E Hollingsworth, Sgt.[16]


April 6th 1918   

Dear Mrs Brown

                       I wish to convey to you my deep sympathy for the loss of your son Bert. It’s a terrible  blow & only time will ease the pain.

I should like to tell you how I valued his friendship, what a good chap he was. He joined the Battery on its formation with many more fine chaps like him, most of whom have no gone. We had some fine times together & we went thro some fine times together & we went thro some very rough ones. We went thro the Somme fight & Bert & I would usually happened to be together with our guns, then again when we held the line, he & I shared the same dugout & took it in turns to use the one bed. I was away the show came of & luckily missed it, It was a great shock when I heard that Bert had been killed, it must have been instantaneous from what I am told, a shell got Bert & three others.

I find it very difficult to express myself to you, please excuse my disjointed letter. If there is anything further you would like to know, please write & I will do all in my power to help you.

          I remain

                 Yours Sincerely

                       H.T.Ringham[17]

2nd Lt H.T. Ringham

      90th T.M.Battery

            B.E.F

                 France

NB Lt Ringham had been on Leave and had not witnessed events.


Sgt Hollingsworth’s letter indicates that Bert had been in command of two of the Battery’s guns on the 21st March.  He had been killed by a German artillery shell, that also killed three other men.  The following plan is held by Stuart Brown and was probably taken from Bert’s body after his death. TB

P1030668.1

“Bert’s Map”. Believed to a sketch map of 90th TMB positions that was recovered from Bert’s body, prior to burial and returned to his family by the War Office. The plan shows defences 2 miles to the west of Manchester Hill, broadly consistent with the location of 17th Battalion and the place where 90th TMB had withdrawn to in the afternoon of 21st March. It is a strong possibility that Bert was killed by German artillery fire at one of the Trench Mortar emplacements shown on the plan. The distance notations are most consistent with the emplacement nearest to Savy. TB

Hybrid Trench Map 2.2.1918. Courtesy National Library of Scotland.1

Hybrid Trench Map 2.2.1918. Courtesy National Library of Scotland. The arrows mark the estimated location of 90th TMB on the night of 21st March 1918. Bert was probably killed near the eastern arrow; north of the Etrelliers – Savy Road. A current farm track passes this point to assist future visitors with access. TB

Lieutenant Goldsmith was recorded as being present in the Battle Zone postions, or Battery HQ.  He received a Military Cross for the action, which gives every indication he was in command of the other two guns near Etrelliers.  His citation reads:-
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  This officer held out in a redoubt for thirty-six hours with four mortars, firing eighty rounds of T.M. [trench mortar] ammunition at the enemy at close range, when he was surrounded on three sides.”

Thomas Goldsmith wrote to Bert’s father on 10th November 1918.  He explained the reason for the delay as being Herbert Hilton’s roll to write to family members.  He also explained that it was difficult to reopen the wound, assuming that parents would much rather be left alon in their sorrow.  Despite these reservations, Thomas Goldsmith provided extensive explanation to Bert’s father:-


                                                                                                 “Imperial Hydro
10th November 1918

…it was Captain Hendrie’s order that in the event of an attack, Sgt Brown should take 2 guns and 9 men across to a right rear rdoubt in the Battle Zone [consistent with the marked position, near Savy on Bert’s plan] ie behind the front and support lines – while another Corporal was detailed to take the 2 guns to the left rear redoubt [near Etrelliers]…The 4 guns being under my command. Captain Hendrie having charge of the 4 guns in the forward area.
   As the Bosche attack commenced on the 21st, everbody took up their positions & awaited events.  It was my duty to go from your son’s postition to my own continually during the day in order to see that things were OK.  This I did  on the last occasion I visited Sgt Brown’s team was about 6pm on the 21st at which time things were fairly normal & quiet.  I must say that previous to this one of his gun teams had got isolated & when I found them the gun had been knocked out & 2 men killed, the remaining 2 men I withdrew to my position in reserve.
   On leaving your son I satisfied myself that he and his team were quite alright, both as regards rations & moral & I told him to report events to me by phone every hour. (I would like to say here that officers had every confidence in Sgt Brown, that is why he was left in sole charge of the right redoubt, he had often taken the place of an officer in the line.)
I now returned to my position on the left [the other gun team held by the Corporal, near Etrelliers]
As no phone messages came through I began to get anxious but as the phone had been in constant use…I concluded he was having some difficulty (as a Sergeant) in having his message transmitted.
However I decided to visit him.  The night was a villainous one & almost impossible to move about, but a Corporal & I endevoured to cross the intervening mile for at least 2 1/2 hours before at last had to give up as the fog was so thick & we were on strange ground.
As soon as daylight came we made our way to the emplacement & found I regret to say a shell sometime in the night had exploded right on the position & had immediately killed the whole of the team with the exception of a man could not find but who we heard later had got away badly wounded.
Almost as soon as we made the discovery, events moved rapidly, for with the dawn the Bosche attacked.  The infantry [2nd Bttn Bedfordshire Regiment held the Battle Zone] in the redoubt repelled them at the moment & I & my orderly dashed across to our own teams which we got working & from this moment hardly had a moments rest for 10 days.
Your son Mr Brown, so far as I could see was killed by concussion of the shell, but the 3 others were badly knocked about.  None of the bodies were reached for 2 reasons, the main one being that all men were concentrated on repelling the enemy.
The other reason is strong reluctance in an Englishman to go through the pockets of a Corpse, this mainly being left to stretcher bearers in quieter times….
…if you would like to see me personally, I shall be glad to call…My home address is 3 Thompson Street, Moss Side.
With kindest regards to you
                                                                       Your sincerely
                                                                         J Goldsmith


Bert’s father had responded to Thomas Goldsmith, who replied again on 14th November 1918.  He apologised for the somewhat callous nature of his original letter and provided a more sympathetic tone.  He explained that the Bert had been the most popular man in the Battery, after the Captain.  Thomas also gave further details of the circumstances of Bert’s death and an indication the sympathy he felt for the families of his men.


“On the explosion of a shell a tremendous force of air is emitted & if a person happens to be quite near it is possible for all the shrpanel etc to miss him & yet this force is so strong as to immediately stop the action of the heart & brain….as a personal experience myself have been blown up twice & I have come back to terra firma without a scratch…
My health is gradually coming back…when I do come along to Manchester my first call shall be to your house.
With Kindest regards
I am
Sincerely yours
J E Goldsmith
PS. If you are aquainted with the parents of the other Battery boys, I shall be glad to be of any assistance I can in whatever they desire”


IMG_7972

J Goldsmith 14/11/1918

It was very common for comrades to write to family members expressing that their son had met a swift and painless death, without beeing torn apart by the ravages of shell, grenade or gun shot.  It remains unknown if Thomas Goldsmith was sanitising the record out of sympathy for Bert’s family.  His record of Bert’s final hours provides a graphic illustration to the circumstances.  It seems Bert was killed at some time after 6pm on 21st March; and before dawn on 22nd March.  It would seem Bert occupied the position near Savy, with one Trench Mortar.  The second trench mortar in his team was located nearby, possibly further north – in the position shown on the Brigade map – until they too were blown up by shell fire. These detachments were both at the vanguard of the Infantry positions shown in the Battle Zone, forming the second line of defence against the German offensive.

As indicated by Thomas Goldsmith, the Official Letter from 90th TMB had been written by Lieutenant Hilton.


                                                                                                                               April 1/1918

 Dear Mr & Mrs Brown

                                         No doubt you will now received the sad news of your sons death in action on the 22th March & I am writing to say that you have my deepest sympathy in your sad loss.

                I was with your son the day before his death and although there was an intensive bombardment at the time, he was quite cool and carried on in his usual way.

         He and his men were hit by pieces of a shell which dropped straight among them and all of them died instantaneously, including your son, we have lost 20 men in the recent battle also two officers, Capt. Hendrie (our O.C ) and another, so that you can imagine my feelings after being associated with the Battery for nearly two years.  

  I always found your son exceptionally keen on his work particularly in action and although being a Sergeant it was neccesary for him to be a disciplinarian he was exceedingly popular with the men and although most of our men are missing, he his very much missed by the few men who are left. I hope you will find consolation in your sadness by the fact that your son died at his post as close as he could to the enemy and that all times under very trying circumstances he did his work both cheerfully and intelligently.

                         Assuring you of my deep sympathy.

                                   Yours sincerely

                                                    H A Hilton  Lt

                                                        90 T.M.B


By 24th March, Capt Hendrie and  Lieut Evans had been captured (at Manchester Hill) and the strength of 90th TMB was Lieuts Goldsmith and Hilton, together with just 12 remaining Other Ranks. Captain Ringham later returned  from Leave. TB

Many of the Allied dead were buried by the Germans as they advanced  and exhumed  later after the war ended.[18] They were reburied in plots of land given by the French and marked with a simple wooden Cross.

IWGC.1

This is my Uncle Bert’s Cross erected at La Chapelle British Cemetery, Holnon [edit] near St Quentin by The Imperial War Graves Commission which later became the CWGC.

My Father, went to France in May 1917, the last time he saw his Brother, would probably have been when Bert left to go to France in early [8th November] 1915.

They tried many times to meet in France when they got local leave, but were never successful, the last time my Father tried to meet Bert, he found that Bert had died the day before.[21]

He never got to see his brothers Grave. However, in 1982 my wife and I with our children called at La Chapelle Cemetery [edit] en route to our holiday destination.

If you have ever been to a 1st WW Cemetery, you will know how emotional it is when you see the number of headstones and see the ages, most between 18 and mid 20s, and then  read the inscriptions.

Grave Inscription.1.jpg

This is my Uncle Bert’s Cross  erected at La Chapelle British Cemetery, Holnon [edit] near St Quentin by The Imperial War Graves Commission which later became the CWGC.

When I stood in front of Uncle Bert’s headstone and read the inscription that my Grandfather had requested in 1923. which read ‘Memory like the Ivy clings’ and remembered what my Grandmother had written in 1918. I thought of  an Uncle I had never met but knew his story and if it had been my Father that had died and not his Brother, I would not have been  born and my family would not exist.

Unexpectedly, emotion washed over me and I broke down and cried, it took some minutes before I regained my composure and then I understood my Fathers emotion and tears all those years ago. On return from our holiday I showed my Father the 2 Photographs that I had taken of his Brother’s Grave and La Chapelle Cemetery [edit].

Brown H Grave

Sgt 8060 H Brown

It was very emotional for him, but he was very pleased to see the Photographs and it probably gave him a sense of closure after 64 years. I was glad we made the effort, because 1 year later my Father died.

La Chapelle British Cemetery

La Chapelle British Cemetery

This story is not unique, many families will have lost more than 1 Son, but it is personal to me, my family past and present and also to all Uncle Bert’s friends, neighbours and work colleagues.

Stuart Brown

November 2018

Every Family who suffered a lost relative received a memorial plaque, or Death Penny.  The Brown family also arranged a commemorative picture and a card thanking people for their condolences. TB

nb

 This is an edited version of a talk I gave on Remembrance Sunday in our local Church, it was well received and many of the congregation said it gave them an insight into what it was liked to be in the trenches and how personal each death was to their families.

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 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Goldsmith’s letter states “a strong reluctance in an Englishman to go through the pockets of a Corpse, this mainly being left to the stretcher bearers in quieter times.” Nevertheless Stuart has a collection of papers and documents that must have belonged to Bert. As all the men’s packs were lost in the withdrawal, we conclude that these papers had been collected from Bert’s body and sent to his grieving parents.  They must have cherished the final memontoes of Bert and the source of these documents still holds deep resonance, more than a century later.  The collection is shown below:-

 

Bert’s family received numerous letters of condolence.  Stuart has transcribed these and they can be read below:-

Notes by Tim Bell

[1] Typo correction from 1919

[2] Stuart’s father was John Archibald Brown, born on 20th September1892 – and known as Archie. His Uncle was Herbert Elliott Brown, born on 7th July 1890 – and known as Bert.  A third son, Jack had been born in 1894 and died in infancy.  Their parents were John Thomas and Mary Brooke Brown.  John Brown is recorded as being a clerk for the Post Office and the family lived at 55 Huxley Avenue, Cheetham, Manchester from 1911-1919.  In 1911, Archie was an Inquiry Agent and Bert had been a junior buyer of fancy goods in the Home Trade.  Prior to enlisting, Bert was employed in  Jones Brothers [22].  Three other employees joined B Company of 17th Battalion, confirming the philosophy of the Pals.  They all survived hostilities.

[3] The image of Archie Brown was taken in Bolton in August 1919 and he seems to be wearing the cap badge of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), rather than the Labour Corps.  The Labour Corps was formed in February 1917, from Works Companies of various Infantry Regiments. Archie’s Diary and his Mother’s Keepsake shows he joined 33rd Labour Company at Oswestry on 17th May 1917.  He is known to have been a Private Number 208211 and disembarked in France on 9th June 1917, serving with the Labour Corps.  Archie had been conscripted into the 33rd Company of the Labour Corps that had been formed from the 2nd Infantry Labour Company of the DLI.   It is known that men who had undertaken the transfer sometimes continued to wear their original Infantry cap badge, rather than their Labour Corps insignia.  It follows that Archie was given the DLI Cap Badge and retained this, even though his service was exclusively with the Labour Corps.  The number sequence of 208211 is consistent with initial allocation to 35th Company of the Labour Corps, which was formed from 4th Infantry Labour Company of the DLI; indicating that Archie was transferred between the former DLI Companies at an early stage in his service.

Stuart advises that his father’s poor eyesight led to him being rejected from serving in the early years of hostilities and he was conscripted in 1917, presumably limited to duties away from the front line.   Archie’s Discharge Certificate shows he had enlisted, or re-enlisted in November 1915, probably as part of the Derby / Group Scheme.  Due to his he must not have been called up until 1917.  Archie’s final unit was 222nd Employment Company of the Labour Corps and he was Transferred to Reserve on 3rd December 1919.

Archie is using a walking stick in the image, consistent with the report from Stuart that his father has told him he had been blown off a wagon in France, by German artillery fire.  The single chevron on his right sleeve is a Good Conduct Stripe and the three smaller chevrons on his right arm denote three years overseas service.  These three years are inconsistent with the current understanding of John’s record as they indicate overseas service from August 1916, or earlier.  Further clarifacation is needed, because the meaning of the stripes would make more sense for 3 Good Conduct Stripes and 1 Overseas.

Archie’s diary shows he arrived in London on 26th July 1919, having leave in Manchester from the next day.  It is anticipated he was transferred to Reserve soon afterwards.

[4] The photo of Bert shows his Sergeant’s stripes.  This must have been taken in 1916 to March 1918. His final Army pay was received on 1st August 1919.  SInce leaving for France in June 1917, Archie had only one short period of leave at Home in February 1918.

[5] The 2nd City (or Pals) Battalion was formed on 2nd September 1914 and recruited Clerks and Warehouseman from Manchester’s thriving businesses.  Bert must have been one of the first to enlist, allocated on the of the first Battalion numbers 8060.  There is speculation that John Brown enlisted in the Battalion with his brother and received the previous number 8059 (otherwise unknown recipient), prior to being discharged due to his poor eyesight. The 2nd City became 17th Battalion when the War Office took responsibility in 1915.

[6] Typo Correction 1914 –  not 1915.

[7] Bert disembarked in France with 17th Battalion on 8th November 1915.  This entitled him to a 1914-15 Star and his family will have also received the British War Medal and Victory Medal

[8] Bert was a Private in the Platoon photo and retained this rank in November 1915. The dates of his promotions are not known.  The original City Battalion recruits were ideal candidates for Non Commissioned Officers – indeed many received commissions.

[9] The V Platoon photo was taken in Manchester in April 1915.  The building in the background will be Heaton Hall.  17th Battalion trained at Heaton Park from September 1914 to April 1915, when they left for Belton Park and completed final Home training at Lark Hill.  The men on the outer edges of the group are wearing navy coloured “Tram Guards” uniforms, rather than khaki.

[10] Eleven members of the Heaton Park roll or V Platoon died during hostilities.  Many more were wounded.

[11] The 2nd Battalion captured Manchester Hill in April 1917

[12] See https://www.themanchesters.org/Manchester%20Hill.htm Lt Col Wilfrith Elstob was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his valiant defence of Manchester Hill, in command of 16th Battalion.

[13] 90 Brigade Trench Mortar Battery had been formed by April 1916 and Bert was an original member, attached from 17th Manchesters.  On 21st March 1918 the Battery strength was three officers and 38 Other Ranks, holding positions in advance of, or within Manchester Hill.  These units probably withdrew to Manchester Hill as the Germans advanced. The 30th Divisional War Diary recounts repeated use of Heavy Trench Mortars in the defence of the Brigade lines, through the afternoon.  Two officers and 24 Other Ranks were casualties.  https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/the-british-trench-mortar-batteries-in-the-first-world-war/

[14] The first reference to the Trench Mortar (TM) group is found in the 17th Battalion War Diary, when Z.30 (3rd/30th Division) Trench Mortar Battery  moved from Maricourt to Sailly Laurette on 19th March 1916.  This unit was subsequently allocated to  the respective Brigades, including the newly formed 90th Brigade  Light/ Stokes TM Batteries, in April 1916.  The Brigade TM Batteries were later returned to Divisional level in April 1917 and Bert served with 30th Divison TM Battery. As Bert Brown was an original member of 90th Brigade TM Battery, it is assumed he trained and served with Trench Mortars from March 1916.  90th TMB provided close support to the successful assault on Montauban on 1st July 1916.  The TM Batteries continued to serve on the Somme,  as well as Arras and Ypres.

[15] 2nd Lieutenant Vivian Herbert Neser was awarded the Military Cross for his command of the Trench Mortar detachment at Manchester Hill.

[16] 6757 John Edwin Hollingswoth was an original member of 16th Battalion.  With previous service in Volunteer Battalion, John was promoted Sergeant after arrival in France.  He was a member of 90th TMB from 22nd April and on 1st July 1916 after which he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. John was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and transferred to Army Reserve on 20th March 1919..

[17] 2nd Lieutenant Harry Tucker Ringham had been a member of 18th Battalion prior to his commission on 29th May 1917.  He was promoted Lieutenant on 30th November 1918.  He retired in Stockport after the Great War.

[18] Bert was originally buried in a clearing near St Quentin Wood, less than two miles from Manchester Hill.  His remains were relocated to the nearby village of Holnon in 1919.  The reports, suggesting Bert was fighting in the night of 21st March, indicate he may have been part of the Battery that succesfully withdrew from Manchester Hill, with 2/Lt Neser.  It is therefore possible he was buried by the British as they moved out of the front.  His original burial and current grave are next to a member of 16th Bttn, who may also have been killed by the artillery shell that hit Bert.

[19] 30th TMB War Diary for Christmas Day 1917 notes “Fine [weather], snow later in day. All men came back to CAMP at CAFE BELGE for Xmas dinners.”

[20] 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Frederick Goldsmith MC (b Hastings 1891) Pre-War Service in 4th Bttn Cheshires. Tramway Clerk for Council in Wallasey in 1911. Served as Pte in KLR France 7/11/1915. Commissioned.  Arrived 17th Bttn posted to D Coy 2/7/1917. D Coy Ypres 31/7/1917. Att 90th Bgd TMB 20/8/1917.  2iC TMB 22/3/1918. A/Lt as 2iC TMB 3/5/1918. MC for Manchester Hill action and Bar for action in Ypres in during April 1918 awarded September 1918 on att TMB. Gold Coast after War with address in Moss Side. Married in Eccles in 1923.

[21] Archie’s Diary shows he was at Vraignes-en-Vermandois in March 1918.  This  8 miles west of Manchester Hill.  Circumstances would have prevented Archie meeting Bert in late March 1918, as the coming German offensive was anticipated.  Archie’s diary shows he visited Savy and St Quentin in May 1919.  One presumes he was looking for Bert’s grave and was sadly unsuccesful.  Archie’s Diary also shows other times when he was in the same vicinity of Bert, such as Ypres in July 1917. Secrecy and duties would have made their meeting very challenging.  It’s interseting to see that Archie was in Montauban (Montaban in Diary) on 17th July 1919.  This was the village liberated by Bert and 90th Brigade on 1st July 1916.  Archie probably saw graves of men that he and Bert knew from Manchester.

[22] Bert worked in the Handkerchief Department of Jones Brothers Limited, Cotton Manufacturers of York Street, Manchester.

hendrie h a

Capt H A Hendrie 19th Manchesters att. and OC 90th TMB. Courtesy Bury Grammar School.

[23] Capt Hugh Albert Hendrie had been a master at Bury Grammar School and officer in the Officer Training Corps.  He was captured in the defence of Manchester Hill. He served in the Royal Navy after hostilities, including an Instructor Commander in 1939. His Interview as a retunring Prisoner of War provides details of the distribution of the Battery on 20th-21st March 1918.

[24] Herbert Andrew Hilton had enlisted as a Private 4090 in the University and Public Schools Battalion.  He disembarked in France on 14th November 1915, with 21st Bttn Royal Fusiliers.  Returning Home on 22nd March 1916, he trained as an Officer Cadet and received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment on 5th August 1916.  Herbert was posted to 27th (Training Reserve) Battalion in England and attached to 90th TMB in France.  As 2iC on 21st March, he probably became OC on 22nd March.  He was later promoted Captain and subsequently served as an officer with the Royal Fusiliers.

Significant thanks to Stuart Brown for sharing Bert’s story and his wonderful family records.  Not Forgotten.

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8 thoughts on “My Uncle Bert – Sgt 8060 Herbert Brown

  1. Roger Sharp

    I found your account of Bert’s war incredibly moving. I was struck by the number of his fellow soldiers wrote to his family after he had been killed, and in such a compassionate way, at length.

    The fact of the matter is that Thomas Goldsmith was my grandfather, a man I never met. He survived the war but I don’t think he ever fully recovered from the experience. Like Bert, he signed up at the start of the war. In fact this must have been very early on as he has the solid silver version of the cap badge which I think was arranged by Lord Derby for the very first men to sign up. Perhaps Bert has one as well?

    My grandfather never spoke about the war afterwards. It was only by chance I discovered he had won the MC and Bar when eventually my Grandmother told me many years after he had died. Much of his post war life was very difficult as he had to fund long term care for one of his family, which was very expensive without the NHS. He died in the mid-fifties, a couple of years before I was born.

    He seems to have been a man who would sacrifice himself in order to do the right thing throughout his life. Other people would always come first.

    Anyway, I am so grateful for the maps you have published. Just last month my wife and I decided we wanted to see where he fought, and you have made it possible for us to visit pretty much the exact spot. We’ll certainly go and pay our respects to Bert while we’re there as well.

    It’s a remarkable coincidence that you have posted this just months before we decided to make the trip. Thank you so much for taking all the time you have in telling Bert’s story. If you wish to send me your email address, I can write to you after we’ve been. It’s rogersharp183 @ Gmail.com

    With my very best wishes,

    Roger Sharp.

    Reply
    1. 8055bell Post author

      I’m delighted you found the post on Bert Brown helpful. I must come clean to tell you the core of the article was written by Stuart Brown, Bert’s Nephew. I just added a few plans and a little historical context.
      At the time we were writing about Bert we found little published information about 90th TMB, so it’s great Stuart started as a resource we can share.
      I’ll send an email and would be delighted to post relevant pictures on Lt Goldsmith MC and Bar.

      Reply
      1. 8055bell Post author

        I should add that it was only last month I paid respects to Bert myself. I also took pictures of the area where he was killed (where Lt Goldsmith had also been) and Bert’s original burial location. I need to collate those images.
        Tim

  2. 8055bell Post author

    Roger,
    I’ve found Thomas served with 18th KLR (2nd Liverpool Pals) in France. As part of 30th Division, they followed a similar path to the 17th Manchesters. Visit the Pals Memorial in Montauban when you’re in the area. Thomas helped liberate the village on 1st July 1916.
    Thomas’ was the2nd eldest son. The next eldest was William Henry. Wm joined 16th Manchesters in Jan 1915 and will have been at Montauban on 1st July. He transferred to Machine Gun Corps in Dec 1916 and was woundedin shoulder near Heninel on 23/4/1917.

    Reply
  3. Roger Sharp

    Thank you so much for that information. The thing is, my grandfather never spoke about his experiences in WW1 at all. I think this was for 3 reasons. 1. Because of the sheer horror of what he’d seen. 2. A feeling of guilt that he had survived and so many of his friends hadn’t. 3. He felt that his MC and Bar could have easily been given to others who had been equally brave, and in any case he had only done what he thought was right.

    To talk about any of this would have been disrespectful to the memory of those who didn’t come home.

    I’ll certainly visit Kew ASAP.. My motivation for wanting to find out more about his story is driven by a number of factors. 1.His two daughters are getting on in years and I’d like to to visit France and be able to talk to them about the trip. 2. Even though I never met him I’ve always felt an affinity between us. 3. Stories like his and Bert’s need to be told in as much detail as possible so that we remember the sacrifices that others have made so that we can lead the lives we do today. 4. And a whole lot more.

    I do believe my mother may have some relevant maps from the time, and also more letters. I’ll let you know.

    Thanks once again for what you have made possible.

    Kind regards,

    Roger.

    Reply
    1. 8055bell Post author

      Hi Roger,
      Most veterans didn’t talk about their experiences. No doubt it was the reasons you mention and also others, including self-protection, that they didn’t want to re-live the worst moments. PTSD wasn’t recognised then.
      I’m incredibly fortunate to have a Radio 4 recording of my Grandad and notes he provided to Martin Middlebrook for the “First Day” – where he has two quotes. https://youtu.be/cx-G_9SEDCE
      The transcript and notes from the backbone of the principal content of the site.
      Martin’s work was incredibly helpful in building understanding of veterans’ experiences.
      It would be great for Thomas’ daughters to learn more and I agree the sacrifice of all these men should not be forgotten.
      I look forward to seeing what we can do together. Thomas will have his own post for us to work on.
      Tim

      Reply

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