Brothers killed on same day during bloody Somme battle

The house in Northumberland Square, North Shields, where the Brown brothers lived before they were killed in the First World War.
The house in Northumberland Square, North Shields, where the Brown brothers lived before they were killed in the First World War.

SEPTEMBER 1916 saw one of the rarer and more tragic events of the First World War – the loss of two family members on the same day.

Two brothers who had been living in North Shields were killed on September 4.

At present the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project does not know the address from which the brothers left for war, but both joined the Norfolk Regiment and were commissioned as officers.

Their mother had left the town after the death of their father in 1912.

Edwin Percival Wildman Brown was a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment and had served previously in the 3rd Battalion of the regiment.

The latter unit was located in East Anglia and to which new recruits would be posted prior to allocation to a unit in the field.

In addition, younger recruits not permitted to be on active operations would be held back on training and administrative duties pending reaching the age for posting into fighting units.

A former pupil of Tynemouth Municipal High School, he had gone on to Durham University where he joined the Officers Training Corps.

Enlisted in September 1914, at the age of 17, he was killed in action in the Delville Wood area.

His elder brother, William John Henry, was recorded as a medical student in the 1911 census but appears not to have been serving as a doctor.

Aged 24 he was an acting Captain and shown on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission register as a member of the 3rd Battalion attached to the 15th Battalion.

It is not clear if this is with the Norfolk Regiment, which is unlikely as today’s records do not indicate the formation of a 15th Battalion of the Norfolks.

He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial which records the names of more than 73,000 British and dominion servicemen lost in the Somme from 1916 to 1918.

The family was of some substance – William Henry Brown, their father, was a doctor and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

He had died on August 23, 1912, aged only 52, leaving a widow and mother of their four children Fanny Sophia, of Suffolk.

The family home in North Shields was at No. 7 Northumberland Square.

Now unoccupied, it was for many years used as council offices.

As the long drawn out battle on the Somme ground on into September 1916, that month saw heavy casualties amongst the men of the 8th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers who had been sent to France.

Fighting as a part of the 11th Division, they were thrown into the assaults as part of the campaign known as the Battle of Thiepval Ridge.

On the morning of September 26, the Fusiliers were in the vanguard of the attack against the German positions in front of the Zollern Redoubt.

Meeting heavy resistance the momentum of the attack was lost and the history of the campaign shows that the troops following on as ‘moppers up’ were killed almost to a man, leaving only 50 survivors with a sole remaining officer organising a temporary position in front of the German strong point.

On the following morning the Germans withdrew from the Redoubt and the Fusiliers were able to occupy the enemy position.

Later that day the battalion was relieved and withdrawn from the front line.

They were not employed further on the Somme as the battle petered out on November 18

Overall the battle cost the allied forces more than 400,000 killed and wounded for a gain of no more than 4,000 yards on any part of the 18-mile section of the front.

The hoped for breakthrough for the allies never materialised; and during the winter standstill the Germans withdrew to a stronger defensive position – the Hindenburg Line.

The small gains bought at enormous cost were only justified in the minds of the general staff by taking account of the similarly high cost to the enemy, whose casualties were reckoned to have exceeded those of the attackers.

THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men who were killed or died in the month of September, 1916.

Antwiss, Robert, Private, 8th Battalion NF, DOW, 28th, details needed.

Backley, Herbert, age 24, Lance Corporal, Y Company, 8th Battalion NF, KIA, 26th, son of Charles Henry and Margaret, of 25 Berwick Terrace, previously wounded, November 1915.

Bell, Matthew, Private, 10th Battalion NF, DOW, 55 Lawson Street.

Brown, Edwin Percival Wildman, age 19, 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment, KIA, 4th, son of William Henry and Fanny Sophia Brown, of 7 Northumberland Square, enlisted September, 1914, brother of William John Henry Brown.

Brown, William John Henry, age 24, Captain, 3rd Battalion Norfolk Regiment, KIA, 4th, 7 Northumberland Square.

Carmichael, Daniel, RNR, HMS Harvester, died from the effects of war service, 23rd, 4 Addison Street.

Connelly, M, Private, 8th Battalion NF, KIA 114 Bedford Street, employee of Smiths Dock Company, pontoons department.

Cowell, William Henry, age 27, Private, ‘X’ Company, 8th Battalion NF, KIA, 26th, son of Jane and late John, husband of Margaret Bell Cowell, 46 Rudyerd Street, wounded at Dardanelles, 1915.

Hume, John Walter, age 20, AB, RNVR Drake Battalion RND, KIA, 18th, son of John and Charlotte, of 1 Trinity Terrace, Coach Lane.

Laing, Ernest Edward, age 20, Private, 1st Battalion NF, KIA, 17th son of John Wood Laing, 36 East Stephenson Street.

Thompson, John William, deck hand, RNR, HM Trawler Sarah Alice, blown up, 26th, Gallery Wall – Church Way, husband of Isabella Boylen (formerly Thompson), of 124 Church Way.

Toy, William Edgar, age 20, Private, 8th Battalion NF, KIA, 26th, 18 Albion Road, son of Mrs Isabella Tweedy.

Yeaman, John Ross, Lance Corporal, 8th Battalion NF, KIA, 28th, 42, Sibthorpe Street.


KIA – killed in action

DOW – died of wounds

LAS – lost at sea

NF – Northumberland Fusiliers

DLI – Durham Light Infantry

RND – Royal Naval Division

RNR – Royal Naval Reserve

RFA – Royal Field Artillery

n Anyone with information on this week’s list or who wants to find out more about the project, should visit, e-mail or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.