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William Brown

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

77449 Gunner

1st Salvage Company, Tank Corps

Age: 21

Date of Death: 1.8.17

Buried: Menin Gate Memorial Panel 56

Family history: Only son of Alexander and Margaret Brown, Swordie Mains, Bo’ness. He had two sisters, Nellie and Janet. Before enlisting at the age of 17, in September 1914, he was employed as a junior clerk at the Bo’ness Distillery of James Calder and Company Limited.

He enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders, service number S/4169, and served in the 9th Battalion, which was created from an amalgamation of surplus personnel from the 8th Battalion and a large draft from the depot. Formed in Aberdeen in September 1914, the Battalion became part of the 44th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division. They were converted to Pioneers in January 1915 and went to France with the division in July 1915. Pioneer Battalions were created as an expedient in 1914, and were a new concept in the British Army. Intended to provide the Royal Engineers with skilled labour and to relieve the infantry from some of its non-combatant duties. The Pioneers became the work horses of the BEF.

William saw action at the Battle of Loos and the Somme with the 9th Gordons. He trained as a machine gunner in early 1917, and transferred to the Machine Gun Corps were he joined the Tank Corps, 1st Salvage Company and with a new service number of 77449.

The action leading to his death

Tank Field Companies, originally known as Salvage Companies, were dispatched from Central Workshops to the battle areas. The duty of these companies was to take over from the fighting units all damaged tanks, such as those knocked out by the enemy’s artillery fire; they were in fact, the clearers of the battlefield so far as tanks were concerned. Apart from salving complete tanks and immense quantity of other material was reclaimed, such as 6-pounder guns, machine guns, ammunition, tools, track plates, gears, transmissions, and engine parts etc, which in the two years of the existence of these companies totalled in value several million pounds.

The work carried out by these Companies was particularly dangerous, and many casualties amongst their personnel occurred. They were under constant shell fire and the ground was a mass of shell holes. Much of their work had to be done at night as many of the machines they were attempting to salvage were in full view of the enemy.

(IWM Q 8703 A derelict British tank submerged in mud and surrounded by shell-holes. Near St. Jean, looking back towards Ypres, 6 March 1918. McLellan, David (Second Lieutenant) (Photographer)

The British employed 136 tanks, all that was available to them, on the opening day of Third Ypres. This was on a 19 mile front. Assisted by the tanks they made gains of 1.2 to 2.4 miles. Of the fifty two fighting and supply tanks of 2nd Tank Brigade used between the Ypres to Roulers Railway and across the Menin Road to Sanctuary Wood, nineteen were put out of action by German guns and twenty-two ditched, some due to mechanical failure. The Menin Road being dominated by a massive fortification at Clapham Junction. Both 1st and 2nd Salvage Companies were engaged in salvaging tanks that took part in the opening days of Third Ypres.


1915 Star, The British War Medal, Victory Medal

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