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Herbert Henry Brown

Private 13993 Herbert Henry Brown, 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards


Rowdown Farm

Rowdown Farm, home of Herbert's parents during the war.

(google streetview)

Herbert was born in Ramsbury, Wiltshire, in 1884, the only child of Henry James Brown and his wife Eliza, née Fairchild. Henry moved the family to Peasemore, north of Newbury, when he found employment there as a groom and gardener. He evidently impressed someone because, before long, he was appointed farm bailiff, a very responsible post for a former groom.  The farm he managed was Rowdown or Roughdown Farm, presumably the same farm he worked on as a groom for they were living on the farm at Rowdown Cottages before the family moved into the main farm house in the early 1900s.

 

However, the country life was not for young Herbert, instead he found work as a grocer’s assistant appearing in the 1901 census at Peasemore with that occupation. Censuses are a snapshot of the country, showing who was resident where on a Saturday night, Sunday morning. While it is entirely possible that Herbert was working for a grocer in Peasemore, there were few grocers in that small village, he could as easily been at home for the weekend from a job in nearby Newbury, where there were several sizeable grocery businesses.  By the time the 1911 census was taken he was definitely resident in Newbury, lodging with Richard Townsin and his family at 49 Cheap Street – known to past generations of Newburians as the Welcome Cafe but then known as the Welcome Dining Rooms.

49/50 Cheap Street, Newbury

49/50 Cheap Street, the Welcome Dining Room to the left (Casino Slots at the time of this photo).


When war was declared in August 1914 many young men rushed to the recruiting offices and signed up for Lord Kitchener’s ‘New Army’ – so many that several armies were constituted in the coming months. Herbert was not among the initial rush, his mind was on other things - in mid 1915 he married Ruth Dopson.

 

A few months later in late November or early December he made the momentous step and enlisted with the oldest regiment in the British Army, the Coldstream Guards. No local line regiment for him! Ruth remained in Newbury, living with her mother at 1 East Lynn Villas (now 9 Kennet Road).


New recruits were not rushed into action; they spent a long time training, developing the skills and discipline needed to turn a bunch of likely lads into a fighting unit. As a result Herbert did not cross the Channel to join a frontline unit before 1916, where he found himself a member of the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, part of the 1st (Guards) Brigade in the Guards Division.


1916 is renowned for the Battle of the Somme, notably the first day of that campaign, which saw the British take almost 60,000 casualties on that one day.  The Guards Division was not involved on that dreadful day, but were drawn into the action as the campaign continued. They moved down to the Somme from the Ypres salient; the 2nd Coldstreams arriving at billets in Sarton on 1 August. From 16 to 209 August  they manned a section of the line at Serre. On 14 September they went back into the line outside the German held village of Ginchy:


Coldstream Guards badge

The regimental badge of the Coldstream Guards.

(wikipedia)

War Diary, 2nd Coldstream Guards – September 1916
14th Sept     At 8pm the Battn moved up to GINCHY and took over trenches from the 2nd Bn Grenadier Guards. Relief completed about midnight.


15th Sept     At 6.30am the Battn advanced to the assault with 3rd Bn Coldstream Guards on left and 1st Bn Coldstream Guards (2nd Bde) on right. Position of Companies: No 3 Coy left front; No 4 Coy: right front; No 1 Coy: left support; No 2 Coy: right support. On emerging from GINCHY WOOD the line came under very heavy machine gun and rifle fire and despite our Artillery Barrage. Casualties were very heavy. Two lines of Trenches were captured and left and the original objective, 1000-1200 yards away, was taken without great opposition at 7.15am. About 11am the line again advanced and despite a heavy hostile Artillery Barrage took the 2nd line. Lt Edmonstone and Lt Laing, the only two officers left, went out 400-500 yards in front with men of No 1 Coy and remained there till dusk when ordered to retire. Lt Edmonstone was killed during the withdrawal. The Commanding Officer and Lieut Laing were the only two offices left with the remains of the Battn. Remainder of night spent in consolidating position. At 7pm a Counter-attack by a few Germans on our right flank was easily repulsed.


16th Sept     After a fairly quiet night the enemy shelled our position and lines in rear continuously throughout the day. Infantry on our flanks attacked the German Line with moderate success.


17th Sept     At dawn the Battn, after a quiet night, were relieved by the Lincolns and marched to BERNARAY WOOD where they had a hot meal and then returned to Huts & Tents at the CITADEL. Battn marching in – Commanding Officer, Lt Laing and 242 other ranks. Approximate casualties:- Officers: Killed 4, Died of Wounds 2, Wounded 10. Other Ranks: Killed, wounded & missing 440.

 

This was the assault on Lesboeufs, a small village north east of Ginchy; many of the Guardsmen who died in the action are buried in a cemetery on the Ginchy-Lesboeufs road called the Guards Cemetery in honour of the men who took part in this attack. Herbert died on 16 October – presumably dying during the selling of the battalion’s positions reported in the war diary.


Initially he was reported as ‘missing’ – a terrible situation for his relatives, not knowing if he was dead or alive, desperate to hear that he was a prisoner in German hands, yet knowing the odds were that they would never see him again. Finally the confirmation they both dreaded and expected arrived:


Newbury Weekly News, 19 October 1916 – Killed in Action
BROWN – Previously reported missing, now officially reported killed in action between 14th and 16th September, Pte Herbert Henry Brown, Coldstream Guards, only child of Mr and Mrs J Brown, Peasemore, husband of R A Brown, 1, East Lynn Villa, Newbury.


Herbert's name on Newbury War Memorial

Herbert's name on Newbury War Memorial (upper middle)

His body was never identified, so his name is remembered on the massive Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval.


Back home his name is remembered on Tablet 3 of Newbury Town War Memorial; perhaps surprisingly he is not remembered on the memorial board at Peasemore, where his parents were still living.



 

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 Died this day:
17 October 1916
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