Philip Anthony Brown was born on 27 January 1886 in Beckenham in Kent to Anthony, a wholesale stationer, and Jane Chalmers Brown. He was educated in Beckenham at the Abbey School before moving on to Malvern College. He gained an Open Scholarship in History to New College Oxford, matriculating there in Michaelmas 1905. He failed Moderations in 1906, but went on to gain a 3rd in Classics in Trinity term 1908 and a 1st in History in Trinity term 1909. He was made M.A. in 1912. He was in fact an Economic Historian who began his career in the north east in 1911 tutoring classes set up by Durham University for the Workers’ Educational Association. In 1912 he was appointed as a lecturer in Economics in Durham based at Hatfield Hall whilst also holding down a similar post at the London School of Economics. A popular lecturer of “unfailing cheerfulness and courtesy” according to one obituarist and with “the spirit of an apostle” according to another for being able hold to hold down two such jobs, by August 1914 he had already published an edition of English Economic History documents, and was working on a study of the French Revolution in English History, and which was published by friends in 1918.
He initially enlisted as a private in the 6th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry with some college friends, before being commissioned into the 13th Durham Light Infantry on 13 October 1914. He was promoted lieutenant and made assistant adjutant on 3 February 1915. He arrived in France on 25 August 1915 and went up to the front with his battalion, which included a number of his WEA tutees, on 13 October at Armentières. Brown’s last letter home gives some idea of what life was like in the trenches, though he may not have been providing all the details:
We have gone back to the trenches - and to such trenches. I don't think any words can adequately describe them. It has been raining... There is not a patch of dry ground anywhere. Boards soaked in mud, sandbags bursting with mud, ponds and even wells of mud ... yellow mud, greasy ponds, dirty clothes and heaps of mangled sandbags. A great deal of the trench work is collapsing in the wet … and it keeps us busy reconstructing it. We had a certain amount of shellfire, but very little rifle fire yet. A mild enemy in front of us, I think. Now I must stop, as I am on duty and should go the rounds.
Excerpt from the last letter written by Lieutenant Brown to his mother, 3 November 1915.
The following night those rounds involved trying to visit a wiring party in No Man’s Land with his observer Private Thomas Kenny, a former WEA student himself. Lost in the fog, they wandered too close to the German lines and Brown was shot through both legs. Kenny’s efforts in carrying Brown back to their own trenches, through the mud and under extensive fire, earned him the DLI’s first VC in the war, and Captain White earned an MC in the action. Kenny's citation records:
Private Kenny, although heavily and repeatedly fired upon, crawled about for more than an hour with his wounded officer on his back, trying to find his way through the fog to our trenches. He refused more than once to go on alone, although told by Lieutenant Brown to do so. At last, when utterly exhausted, he came to a ditch which he recognised, placed Lieutenant Brown in it, and went to look for help. He found an officer and a few men of his battalion at a listening post, and after guiding them back, with their assistance Lieutenant Brown was brought in, although the Germans again opened heavy fire with rifles and machine-guns, and threw bombs at 30 yards distance. Private Kenny's pluck, endurance and devotion to duty were beyond praise.
Supplement to London Gazette, 7 December 1915.
Unfortunately, Brown died shortly afterwards en route to the dressing station. He is buried in the Ration Farm Military Cemetery at La Chapelle-d'Armentières and commemorated on memorials in Hatfield College chapel and at the London School of Economics. An obituary was published in the Durham University Journal in December 1915. Brown also had a brother Theodore in the Buffs who was killed in 1917.