William Herbert Brown was born on 16 May 1885 in Tudhoe near Spennymoor, County Durham. He was the fourth child of six born to Richard Brown, a clerk in an iron works, and Elizabeth Jane (née Rees), and the eldest of two boys. He attended Bede College 1904-1906, and after gaining his teaching certificate he took up a post at Eden Community School in Murton, lodging with the Thompson family at Woods Terrace Murton. Shortly after 1911 he married Hilda, and moved to Elvet in Durham City. His last recorded teaching position was at New Brancepeth Council School.
A few months after the outbreak of war he joined the newly formed 18 D.L.I. (a ‘Pals’ regiment) and was sent to train at Cocken Hall near Durham City. His letters home to the college magazine The Bede were often published and give a detailed account of the lives of the regiment in these early days. After inauguration the battalion was sent to defend the port of Hartlepool, and six of the men were killed when three German warships bombarded the port area in a surprise raid on 16 December 1914: the same raid claimed the life of Thomas Minks.
The battalion was sent to Egypt in December 1915, by which time William had been promoted to Corporal. His letters home to The Bede describe quite an eventful journey through the Mediterranean, where their troopship was harassed by German U-boats and even collided with a French troopship (albeit empty of troops), sinking it with the loss of two of its crewmen. The battalion remained in Egypt to defend the Suez Canal from possible Turkish attacks, but in March 1916 was transferred to France in readiness for the planned summer offensives. By now William held the rank of Sergeant.
18 D.L.I. was involved in the first attacks on the German forces around the River Somme on 1 July 1916, attacking positions at the village of Serre. This is where William was seriously wounded, requiring he be sent home to Britain to convalesce. Little is known of William’s recovery period, but by October 1916 he was back with his regiment and had received a commission as Second Lieutenant. The regiment was still serving at this time in France and Flanders. William remained with 18 D.L.I. through 1917 and the ‘fighting retreat’ of the April 1918 German offensives, but on 18 July 1918, whilst taking a leading part in a minor counter-attack near La Plate
Becque, France, he was mortally wounded. The battalion’s war diary records he was “badly wounded, missing presumed dead”, and he has no known grave.
William Brown’s sacrifice is commemorated on the war memorial at Ploegsteert, Belgium. He is also remembered on the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour.