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Harold Brown

Harold BrownLance-Corporal Harold Brown, 15/1139, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), 15th Battalion ("Leeds Pals")

Harold Brown was born in Ossett in 1897, the youngest son of Ossett jeweller Robert Moore Brown and his wife Amy Florence (nee Sykes) who lived in Dale Street, Ossett. The couple had married in Huddersfield in 1891. Harold's elder brother Harry Brown was born in 1893 and also served in the British Army during WW1. At the time of the 1911 census, Harold was still a schoolboy and 17 year-old Harry was working as a slip maker's apprentice for a basket maker.

The 15th (Service) Battalion (1st Leeds), West Yorkshire Regiment was formed in Leeds in September 1914 by the Lord Mayor and City and in June 1915 came under the orders of 93rd Brigade, 31st Division. After initial training at Skipton and Ripon (North Yorkshire), the Regiment was sent to Egypt on the 6th December 1915 to take part in the Defence of Suez. They first arrived at Alexandria, but later sailed to Port Said and finally to Kantara, which was on the east bank of the Suez Canal. They were encamped in an area known as 'Point 70'.

The Regiment stayed in Egypt from 21st December 1915 until the 1st March 1916, finally arriving in Marseilles France on the 6th March 1916. From Marseilles they entrained for the journey to Pont Remy, finally marching to Mereleaasart.

On the 7th December 1917, the (1st Leeds) 15th Battalion amalgamated with (2nd Leeds) 17th Battalion to form 15th/17th Battalion after both "Pals" battalions suffered heavy losses. Harold's service number 15/1139 shows that he was one of the original "Leeds Pals."

It was to be Lord Kitchener's "Call to Arms" that would help bring together many new army regiments, such as the 1st Leeds, 15th (Service) Battalion, Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), more famously known as the "Leeds Pals". The general idea of a Pals battalions was that the volunteers would join and serve with friends, relatives, workmates and colleagues, giving a feeling of comradeship that had never been seen before. Most major towns and cities along with Leeds raised pals battalions.

However, to be accepted to these elite units the recruits were to pass certain requirements. Education and intelligence were considered paramount to being accepted in the majority of cases. It was not only businessmen, and local dignitaries however, that were recruited and by the 8th of September 1914, the battalion had enlisted some 1,275 men after rejecting many on medical grounds. This number at the time was considered to be complete although the final number of "Leeds Pals" eventually rose to approximately 2,000. It would appear that each man chosen to be a pal had something to offer be it previous military experience, leadership qualities, or physical prowess. A certain high standard had been set, and each individual reached this, although the average age was 20-21 years old.

Training was to be rigorous and took place at Colsterdale on the Yorkshire Dales. Between September 1914 and May 1915. Colonel J. Walter Stead was the commanding officer of the battalion and he was later replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Campbell Taylor. France was expected to be the Pals first destination, but this was not so. Early December 1915 saw the first group of Pals set sail for Suez. Inevitably, France was to be for many of the Pals their final destination. On March 1st 1916 the Pals set sail for Marseilles as the Battle of the Somme became imminent. The battle was to prove tragic for the "Leeds Pals". On that fateful day, 1st July 1916, approximately 750 out of 900 "Leeds Pals" involved in the Battle of the Somme died.

In a relatively small-scale Somme offensive, on the Thursday, 3rd of May 1917, at Oppy Wood, near the French village of Gavrelle, this date would also become synonymous with the 1st of July 1916, as once again many Pals battalions were thrown into the fray, with heavy casualties being inflicted on the recently rebuilt groups of men. Early on the morning of the 3rd of May the 15/West Yorkshires ("Leeds Pals") launched an attack on Windmill trench. Of the 547 men who started the attack, some 157 were fatalities, cut down by machine guns, 120 were missing and 120 were wounded, nearly half the total battalion strength being taken out in a single day. Many of the bodies of those killed were never recovered, including Lance-Corporal Harold Brown.

The "Ossett Observer" 1 reported Harold Brown missing with two other Ossett soldiers, John Ellis and Israel Burnett Westerman, who had all joined the Leeds Pals and who were all killed in action during the same battle at Oppy Wood, near Gavrelle:

"Three Ossett soldiers missing - Lance-Corporal Harold Brown (20), son of Mr and Mrs. R.M. Brown of Dale-street, Ossett; Private I. Burnett Westerman (21), son of Mr. L. Westerman, of Ryecroft-street, Ossett and Private John Ellis, grandson of Mr. Henry Westwood, Barrowcliffe House, Ossett of the West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds 'Pals'), have been officially reported as missing from their regiment.

In reply to a letter of inquiry, respecting Private Ellis, who was an Ossett Grammar School 'old boy', and well-known locally as a promising baritone vocalist, the soldier's commanding officer states that he took part in an attack on the German positions on May 3rd, going gallantly forward with his platoon, but when the battalion was mustered after the fight, he was numbered among the missing. In tendering sympathy with the relatives in their anxiety, the officer states that they all grieved to have lost a good comrade and brave soldier, and promised to forward any further news received."

Harold Brown

Above: Harold Brown is shown on the left of this picture, which is believed to be somewhere in France circa 1917.

Harold Brown is commemorated on the Arras Memorial 2, Pas de Calais, France on Bay 4. The Arras Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. The most conspicuous events of this period were the Arras offensive of April-May 1917, and the German attack in the spring of 1918.

Harold Brown's elder brother Harry Brown also served in the British Army, but survived the experience. On the 11th December 1911, Harry by then a rag merchant (with J.W. Smith and Co. Ltd., Ossett), aged 18 years and two months, signed up for four years service in the Territorial Force to serve in the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons. He was certified fit on the 8th January 1912 and on the 15th March 1915, Private Harry Brown, 2504, Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons agreed to "serve in any place outside the UK in the event of a national emergency." On the 9th of December 1916, Harry embarked from Folkestone and arrived at Etaples, France the next day. On the 1st January 1917, Harry was transferred to the 4th/9th (Reserve) Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and posted to 1st/4th Battalion, KOYLI.

On the 31st July 1917, Harry was wounded in action (gassed) in the field. This was less than three months after his younger brother's death. He was back in Boulogne on the 2nd August 1917 and then to Etaples on the 20th August 1917. He had home leave in the U.K. at Christmas 1917 and again from the 12th October 1918 to the 21st November 1918 during which the Armistice was signed. Harry was in the field in March and April 1918, but suffered from bouts of poor health. His total service in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was between the 10th December 1916 and the 11th March 1919. He was demobbed in April 1919 and returned home to Ossett.

References:

1. "Ossett Observer", 19th May 1917

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site