Donald Forrester Brown
|Donald Forrester Brown|
23 February 1890|
Dunedin, New Zealand
|Died||1 October 1916†
(aged 26) |
Eaucourt L'Abbaye, France
|Buried at||Warlencourt British Cemetery, France|
|Service/branch||New Zealand Military Forces|
|Years of service||1915–16|
|Unit||2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment|
First World War
Donald Forrester Brown, VC (23 February 1890 – 1 October 1916) was a New Zealand soldier of the First World War who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Brown's Victoria Cross was the second won by a New Zealander during the war, and was the first awarded for actions on the Western Front.
Brown was born on 23 February 1890 in Dunedin, New Zealand. After attending schools in Dunedin and Oamaru, he took up farming. When the First World War broke out, he carried on farming for a year but then sold his farm and volunteered for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) on 19 October 1915.
Brown embarked for the Middle East to join the New Zealand Division, which had been formed after the Gallipoli Campaign and was in training in Egypt by the time he arrived in January 1916. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, which by May was on the Western Front in France.
Brown, by now a sergeant, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Battle of Flers–Courcelette, part of the Somme offensive. On the opening day of the battle, 15 September 1916, his unit was tasked with capturing a series of German held trenches from their position south-east of High Wood. While the first trench was captured with ease with the assistance of effective artillery support, his company came under heavy flanking machine gun fire while advancing to the next trench line, which inflicted heavy casualties amongst the company. Brown, together with another soldier, Corporal J. Rodgers,[Note 1] attacked one machine gun post, killing the crew and capturing the gun. This allowed the remaining soldiers to regroup and prepare for an attack on the next trench, but during a covering artillery barrage they once again came under fire from a machine gun post. Brown was amongst those who attacked this second machine gun post, swiftly dealing with the threat.
Once the covering barrage lifted, the New Zealanders advanced and successfully captured their next objective, the Switch Line. Brown was key in immediately improving the existing defences in preparation against a possible counterattack. The following day, his company along with the remainder of his battalion was relieved and able to withdraw. Brown's company lost 123 men from its initial complement of 180 during the opening day of the battle.
The Otago Regiment was back in the line on 1 October for the Battle of Le Transloy. In an attack on a German strongpoint near Eaucourt L'Abbaye, Brown was again involved in the seizing of an enemy machine gun post which was holding up the advance. Moving forward on his own, and armed only with a pistol, Brown attacked the post, killing its crew and capturing the gun. This allowed his fellow troops to attack and capture the strongpoint. During this attack, Brown was shot in the head by a sniper and killed instantly.
Brown's company commander had recommended him for a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions on 15 September, and his battalion commander had written to Brown's father indicating that he had hoped that Brown's recommendation would be upgraded to a Victoria Cross. However, with Brown's death it was not until the officers of his battalion started agitating for a Victoria Cross nomination that any progress was made. The award of the Victoria Cross to Brown, the first earned by a soldier of the NZEF on the Western Front, was gazetted on 15 June 1917, and it was duly presented to his father by the 2nd Earl of Liverpool, New Zealand's Governor General, on 30 August 1917.
- Gray, John H. (2010). From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth: The New Zealand Division on the Western Front 1916 – 1918. Christchurch, New Zealand: Wilson Scott Publishing. ISBN 978-1-877427-30-5.
- Harper, Glyn; Richardson, Colin (2007). In the Face of the Enemy: The Complete History of the Victoria Cross and New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: HarperCollins Publishers (New Zealand) Limited. ISBN 1869506502.
- McDonald, Wayne (2012). Honours and Awards to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Great War 1914–1918. 3. Hamilton, New Zealand: Richard Stowers. ISBN 0-473-07714-0.
- McGibbon, Ian (2001). New Zealand Battlefields and Memorials of the Western Front. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-558444-9.
- Photo of Sergeant Donald Brown
- New Zealand Troops who have won the Victoria Cross at the Wayback Machine (archived October 26, 2009) (brief biography details)