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Lieutenant John Brown M.C

6th Battalion attached 9th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders (Pioneers), 9th Division, Age 26, Killed 11 April 1918. Voormezeele Enclosure No.3 Grave XIII.B.26/27. Son of John and Isabella Brown, Newton, Gateside, Fife. He was educated at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh and Balliol College, Oxford. His grandfather was the physician and essayist Dr John Brown (1810-1882), famous for 'Horae Subsecivae' ('Leisure Hours'), his three-volume collection of essays on art, dogs, medical history and biography, who was a friend of contemporaries such as Thackeray and Mark Twain.


John enlisted as Private 2369 in the 9th Battalion Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) in September 1914, and went to France on 24 February. Towards the end of May 1915, the Battalion was in the line on the Ypres to Vlamertinghe Road when John was severely wounded and was sent back to the UK spending time convalescing in Leicester Hospital. During this time he wrote this untitled poem:


Arise, my heart and dance,

And laugh, my soul!

The sun may look askance,

And o’er the sky clouds roll.


If a man’s own soul is cold,

No July sun can warm;

If joy a man’s heart hold

No winter blast can harm.


So walk the world with a springing pace,

Breathe in the whistling wind,

Till the red blood runs its riot race,

And warm the ice-bound mind.


On 5 August 1915 he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, and joined the 6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders in the field at Vimy Ridge some ten months later. He fought at the Battle of the Somme and at the end of August 1916 was invalided back to the UK with trench fever. While he was convalescing he wrote this untitled poem:


For weeks the rains of sorrow have soaked

The wood in my heart’s cold hearth;

And the windows and doors of my soul are choked,

And sunbeams can find no path.


And half-burnet matches are strewn around,

That flamed and could not light

The fire that I laid with care on the ground

To warm life and make it bright.


The sun of love alone can dry

The sticks that will not burn:

No patent match that wealth can buy

Will give the light I yearn.


So I sit and shiver and wait for Spring,

While sad-voiced winds roar,

Till April in her hands shall bring

Love’s first beams to my door.


On returning to France in January 1917, he joined the 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders at Arras and was involved in the Battle of Arras with the Battalion capturing the village of St Laurent Blangy on 9 April 1917. He was awarded the Military Cross 'for conspicuous gallantry and resource, when defending, with two platoons, an isolated post. Although wounded, he successfully held his trench for a day and a night with the enemy on both flanks in the same trench, and repelled several counter-attacks. His fearlessness and resource were most marked.' He was again sent back to the UK to convalesce from his wounds and in November 1917, he was promoted to Lieutenant.

War Diary entry recording his death

On returning to France on 5 April 1918, he joined the 9th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders who were in the line at Vierstraat in the Salient. On the 10 April the Battalion was in Brigade Reserve at Piccadilly Farm and on the 11 April moved into the front-line at Onraet Wood. John was shot and killed by a sniper on 11 April 1918. An officer wrote of him: ‘He was killed whilst leading his men, and passed out of this life smiling… He was one of the most popular officers this battalion ever had, and his men frequently asked if there is any chance of Mr Brown coming back to us.'


Linesman Map

John was buried where he fell. After the Armistice the bodies of two unidentified officers of the Seaforth Highlanders were found, buried in the same location. These were believed to be John and Lieutenant J.K. Simpson. They are buried side by side, Plots 26 and 27, Row 13B, in Voormezeele Enclosure No. 3.

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