John BROWN
Rank: Captain
Number:
Unit: 2/7th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 21 March 1918
Age: 29
Cemetery: Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France

Jack Brown had a very privileged upbringing. His father, William, was a successful businessman which, in 1901, allowed the family to employ four live-in servants - two nurses to look after his five children, a cook and a housemaid. They lived at "The Laurels" in Heaton Mersey  - one of the substantial properties on Mauldeth Road and one which appears to have received substantial bomb damage in World War 2 (according to internet indications). They later moved to another local property called "Longfield". Jack had been born on 28 July 1888 and was the eldest of William and Florence's five children. His younger siblings were Agnes, Ethel and twins Alma and William.

In 1905, he started to attend The Leys School in Cambridge. Whilst there he was a prefect and a Cadet Sergeant. A keen sportsman, he won First Colours at football and Second Colours at Lacrosse. As a young man, he had also served as a trooper in the Middlesex Yeomanry. The Yeomanry was the cavalry arm of the Territorial Force but he left on 9 January 1911 to go to Australia.

It is not known if he actually went abroad or, if he did, on what date he returned but, on 23 September 1914, he enlisted into the army at Nottingham, joining the Sherwood Foresters as a private. Three weeks later, he was transferred to the 10th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment. His enlistment papers still exist in his service file at the Nastional Archives and these show him to have been very tall for those days, standing at six feet. He weighed 145 pounds and had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. Jack had given his religious denomination as Church of England.

As with many middle class young men, Jack was quickly singled out to become an officer and, on 21 May 1915, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. The second-line Territorial battalions, like the 2/7th, had been formed in the autumn of 1914 and were, effectively, the reserve training unit for the first line battalions, like the 1/7th. Men would be constantly transferred direct from training to the operational Battalion and this delayed the deployment of the 2/7th onto active service until March of 1917 and this is likely to have been when Jack first went into action.

In the spring of 1918, a German attack had long been predicted and it was finally delivered in the early hours of 21 March. It came after an intense artillery bombardment and the strength of the infantry attack was overwhelming. Within hours, the British Army was undertaking a desperate fighting retreat along a wide front. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are sparse details of the day recorded in the Battalion's War Diary. It records, however, that the enemy shelling started at 4.10am.

At 5.25, the Manchesters received orders, at camp in Montigny, to go to their battle stations and "Marched out at 6.10am to Brosse Wood to hold position. Entered combat here."  It has not been possible to find any details of the fighting but, but by 6.30pm, the Battalion had been under severe attack for many hours. The remnants, which was mainly "B" Company", fell back to redoubts in the Jeancourt valley where they passed a quiet night. The remainder of the men, probably about 600, were dead, wounded or captured.

Jack was originally posted as missing and his family hoped that he had been taken prisoner but news from wounded soldiers returning to Britain indicated that he had been seen "fighting bravely to the last". In September, news came from Germany, via the Red Cross, that Jack had been killed. On 14 April, his body had been buried by men from a German Reserve Infantry Regiment. His grave was between Hargicourt and Jeancourt but, after the War, it was not possible to identify its location. Two of his comrades, Captain Scholfield and 2nd Lieutenant Freeman, had both seen Jack killed and gave statements, as prisoners of war, to the Red Cross.

Mr and Mrs Brown received hundreds of letters of sympathy after the news came through. The Stockport Advertiser, in its edition of 10 May 1918, noted "He was a brave soldier and an excellent officer, held in affection by the rank and file and highly esteemed by his fellow officers who mourn his loss."

At some point, Jack was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. With such a common name, it has not been possible to find the official citation. He is commemorated on the War Memorial at his old school, The Leys. Previous research into the men of that memorial indicated that he had been awarded it for action during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. However, he is not in the list of awards recorded in the Battalion's War Diary for this Battle. It seems more likely that he was awarded it for his known bravery on the day he was killed.

   
           
   
     
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