Remarkable story of seven brothers who went to war

The largest set of brothers to fight in the First World War are believed to be from Preston. For the first time ever Mike Hill tells the story of the Fighting Browns

Friday, 7th April 2017, 4:53 pm
Updated Saturday, 8th April 2017, 10:28 pm
Brothers Sgt Walter Brown, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and Ln Corp Charles Brown, East Lancashire Regiment.

“If every mother’s sons recognised their duty the same as mine do, there would be no need to appeal to the patriotism of young men.”

There was no attempt to disguise Anna Brown’s pride at her six sons who within weeks of the First World War starting had signed up to fight for their country.

Before too long a seventh son, William, would complete the set of ‘Fighting Browns’ heading to the frontline.

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Atkinson Street, Preston, which was home to the 'Fighting Browns'. The street has long since been demolished

At the time it was believed they were the largest set of brothers to fight in the First World War and represented Anna and husband William Brown’s entire family.

Tragically the couple had lost a further 10 children in infancy.

When hostilities broke out only one of the brothers was already serving in the armed forces.

Very quickly two re-enlisted having previously served in the Army with the remainder signing up within the month.

Ln Sgt Fred Brown's service roll

And by the end of the war five of their grandsons had also answered the call to arms.

When Mrs Brown spoke to the Preston Herald in September 1914 she was described as ‘quite cool and collected, her face bearing a happy smile’.

She had recently received a letter from one of her sons vowing he was, ‘going for the Kaiser’s whiskers’.

Sadly, the months and years ahead would bring great heartache to the Brown family as one-by-one the conflict claimed the men she so lovingly described as, “her boys”.

Atkinson Street, Preston, which was home to the 'Fighting Browns'. The street has long since been demolished

Three would die on the battlefield, two later succumbed to injuries sustained in action while the other two survived with serious injuries.

The Browns’ youngest son Edward was one of the pair to return home and live a full life dying 50 years ago this week at the age of 73.

Frederick Brown

Fred was born in 1873 and was the eldest of the Brown brothers.

Ln Sgt Fred Brown's service roll

He was already in his early 40s when hostilities broke out and a spinner by trade.

At the time he was living in Bedford Street, Preston, and he re-enlisted at start of the war, having previously bought himself out of a short spell with Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as a teenager in 1891

Fred headed out with the first contingent of the British Expeditionary Force.

He served with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and rose through ranks to lance sergeant with the 1st Battalion.

He was injured early on in the war at Ypres, France, but later returned to the battlefield.

Fred’s two sons also fought in the First World War. George with the Royal Field Artillery and Robert with 4th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.

It is believed he returned home from the war but died from his injuries.

William Brown

William was the last of the Brown brothers to answer the call to arms.

Born in 1878, he had joined the Lancashire Fusiliers in January 1896 but bought himself out for £10 three months later.

A plasterer by trade, he was married to Mary and the couple had a daughter Alice.

When he re-enlisted he was refunded £5 and by March 1917 it is known he had spent 18 months on active service with the 9th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers during which time he took part in heavy fighting.

At some point he was transferred to the Inland Water Transport Section of the Royal Engineers where he was a sapper.

He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, the Allied Victory Medal and the Silver War Badge.

It is believed he too returned from the war and remained with the military until 1920 but later died from injuries sustained in action.

Charles Brown

Born in 1883, Charles Brown was a lance corporal with the East Lancashire Regiment.

Before the war he was employed as a plasterer for Thomas Birch, in Stoneygate, Preston, and lived in Allan Street, in the town.

He served first with the sixth battalion before being transferred over to the seventh battalion when the sixth headed out to Gallipoli.

Records show Charles landed in Boulogne, France, on July 18, 1915.

He was killed in action in Flanders on July 5, 1916 and had been in the trenches for 12 months at the time.

He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.

Charles was 33 when he died and was married to Jane Ann with seven children aged from 13 months to 14 years. He never got to see his youngest child.

Alfred Brown

Alfred Brown lived with his parents in Atkinson Street, Preston and was a widower with a daughter Agnes.

Born in 1886, prior to the war he worked as a labourer and had a spell with the Manchester Regiment.

During the first week of August 1914 he rejoined the regiment and records show in the early days of the war he suffered bullet wounds at the Battle of La Bassée in October 1914.

He was treated at hospital in London before heading back into action but in July 1915 he was back on the casualty list, receiving gun shot wounds to both thighs.

After recovering he returned to service but was again injured receiving bullet wounds to the left arm in August 1916.

He was taken to Manchester were he spent several weeks in hospital recovering.

Following a spell in training he was transferred to the 4th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment in February 1917 and posted to France.

By the following March he was a corporal but Alfred again found himself wounded and was admitted to hospital in Newcastle to recover exactly one month before the end of the war.

In July 1919, after the war had ended, Alfred rejoined into the Kings Regiment, which took him for 71 days before declaring he was not fit enough to serve.

He was awarded the British War Medal, the Allied Victory Medal and the Silver War Badge.

It is believed he died in March 1955.

James Brown

James was born in 1889, the second youngest of the Brown brothers and the last to be killed on the battlefield.

He joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as a 17-year-old in May 1905 then transferred to the Cheshire Regiment in November 1907.

James served in India with the Cheshire Regiment in 1911 and returned to the UK to work as a bricklayer.

He re-enlisted with the 19th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, which was formed in spring 1916 and sent to France.

James was subsequently transferred to 59th company of the Labour Corps in April 1917 where he was promoted from Lance Corporal to Sergeant.

The corps role was to make roads, layer sleeper tracks, dig trenches, lay barb wire, fix bridges and machine gun posts.

He was wounded at Ypres, France, before being sent east to join the fighting for a spell then returning to France where he was killed at Flanders on October 12, 1918.

James was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal

He left a widow Emma and is remembered at St Sever Cemetery, Rouen.

Walter Brown

Walter Brown served alongside his brothers Fred and Edward in the 1st Battalion, of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and was the first of the family to be killed in action.

He was born in 1892 and was married to Rachel with two daughters Olive and Hilda .

They lived opposite his parents in Atkinson Street, Preston.

He joined the Territorial Army at Preston in April 1909 at the age of 17 and 12 months later enlisted as a reservist.

Prior to the war he worked as a varnisher at Messrs Irvin and Sellars Peel Hall Works, in Preston, and then as a labourer alongside his father William.

During this period he kept up his Army training rising to lance corporal with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion.

Walter was mobilised at Preston on the August 8, 1914 four days after war was declared and three weeks later he was further promoted to corporal.

He embarked for France on the January 5, 1915 with a large batch of reinforcements and was afterwards posted to the 1st Battalion.

Just three weeks later Walter died of wounds after a shell fell in the middle of an orderly room at Beuvry, near Lille, in northern France.

Two officers and 13 other men also suffered the same fate and many more were wounded.

The battalion’s war diary recorded the terrible moment, “A high explosive shell falling almost perpendicularly struck the yard in the midst of us and detonated with great violence. The havoc was awful... This is a terrible disaster and a very severe blow to the Battalion”

He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.

Walter was killed on January 26, 1915 aged 23. His name is remembered at Beuvry Communal Cemetery.

Edward Brown

Born in 1894, Edward was the youngest of the Fighting Brown brothers.

Before war broke out he was still living at the family home and worked as a labourer at a saw mill, in Preston, and then as a metal moulder at Wood Milne Works, Leyland.

He was described by his employers as of ‘very good’ character and was a reserve with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

Edward mobilised on the same day as his brother Walter, August 8, 1914, and was transferred from the reserves to the 1st Battalion as a private.

He arrived in France on January 4, 1915 and would have served with his brothers Walter and Fred.

On July 10, 1916 the 1st Battalion arrived at the Somme and within days Edward was shot in the right leg at Mametz Wood.

The battalion diary reveals the loyals came under machine gun fire in a successful operation to seize enemy lines.

However, during two days of fighting they were driven back by their own artillery fire which caused a number of casualties and the ground gained was lost.

It is not recorded which side inflicted Edward’s injuries and he was sent home to be treated at Cambridge Hospital.

Edward was discharged on May 22, 1917 with £1 and a suit of plain clothes deemed, “no longer physically fit for war service”.

He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.

After being demobbed Edward worked for 30 years at BTR Industries, in Leyland, as a rubber worker before his retirement.

He was married with two sons Joseph and Edward Jnr who both served in the armed forces.

Edward died in Sharoe Green Hospital on April 9, 1967 aged 73.

With thanks to Jane Davies and Dominic Butler, of the Lancashire Infantry Museum; Paul McCormick, of; Geoff Crump and Bill Preece, of the Cheshire Military Museum and Philip Mather, of The Fusilier Museum.