John Brown was the eldest son of Enoch Brown and Eliza Brown nee Biddulph. His family had lived in the Biddulph area for many generations. He was born on January 6th 1888 at Robin Hill, Biddulph Moor. His father worked in the coal mines and his parents had married on the December 28th 1875 at Christ Church, Biddulph Moor and had lived in the Robin Hill area.
In the 1891 census Enoch and Eliza Brown are living with son John aged three. By 1901 the family comprised of son John, now aged 13, with younger sister Annie, aged seven and brother Enoch, three. Another brother, Charles, was born in June 1892 but sadly died early in 1893.
John’s father Enoch died in 1906 at the age of 50 possibly leaving John to take care of his mother and younger siblings. His grandfather also named John Brown was a highway labourer living at Gun Battery on Biddulph Moor. His grandfather died in 1910 at the advanced age of 85.
In the 1911 census the family were still at Robin Hill. Mrs Eliza Brown was aged 51 and a widow. John was now aged 23 and a coal miner (a hewer under-ground) and sister Annie was 17 and a dressmaker. His youngest brother, Enoch, was 13 and a scholar. Young Enoch Brown died in 1911 age 13. His sister Annie went on to marry in 1914. Their mother Eliza Brown died in 1926 age 66.
In August 1914, at 26 years of age and with previous military experience, John Brown enlisted. ‘Soldiers Died’ records the place of enlistment as Lichfield. It is thought that he had previously served as a Northumberland Fusilier, soldier number 5726. However without his service records to aid research, dates and other details of this deployment remain unknown. It is known that during the war he served in the 1/4th battalion York and Lancaster, Hallamshire Regiment.
Training of this battalion was carried out at Gainsborough and in February 1915 they moved to York for their final preparation. Orders were soon received to embark at Folkestone on April 14th. The battalion was now attached to 148th Brigade, 49th West Riding Division. The infantry crossed the English Channel and sailed into Boulogne. Others in the division landed at Le Havre. Their assembly areas were Estaires, Merville and Neuf Berguin.
Taking up positions in Flanders, the division went into action on May 9th at the Battle of Aubers Ridge. This was a short action with little gain and many casualties to the 1/4th York and Lancasters. Through the summer and into autumn the battalion continued holding their lines. In December the troops were in defence and bravely endured a new threat - a phosgene gas attack. Mid-1916 found the 49th Division preparing for the “big push” and the Battle of the Somme commenced on July 1st 1916.
John Brown and his friends fought in a major action near Albert on July 27th, followed by further attacks at Bazentin Ridge with intense shelling. Through to September the division bravely fought many actions; at Pozieries Ridge enemy machine guns and a barrage of shells met the pals and they received many losses. It is believed that John Brown was seriously wounded in this action and on September 8th 1916 he sadly died from his wounds.
A memorial service was held in October at Christ Church, Biddulph Moor. The Chronicle reported that “the church was crowded, many being unable to obtain admission” and that Private Brown was a “native of Biddulph Moor, some-time member of the church choir and highly respected in the district.”
John is buried at the Contay British Cemetery at Contay in France. This is a village on the main road from Amiens to Arras in the Somme region. His name is recorded on the Biddulph Town Memorial and the St Lawrence Churchyard Memorial and also on the memorial inside Christ Church, Biddulph Moor.
Kathleen Walton & Mike Turnock.