100 Kiwi Stories: Mother loses four sons in two years

By Andrew Stone

Of five to serve, two survived Gallipoli only to fall later and just one made it home

A memorial headstone to the Browne brothers at the Waikumete Cemetery.
A memorial headstone to the Browne brothers at the Waikumete Cemetery.

14. The Browne brothers

One by one the letters arrived in New Zealand informing Gertrude Browne of the saddest news.

In the space of just two years Mrs Browne lost four sons. A fifth, Private Edward Browne, survived the war but was sent home after he fell ill.

Arthur Browne, Edward Browne, James Browne.

Before the start of the century Mrs Browne had already felt the pain of a child's death. Her daughter, Beatrice, died when just 2 months old.

Gertrude Browne raised her sons alone and with few resources. Her husband Samuel, a Dargaville bushman, enlisted for the Boer War in 1902.

Letters in his military records say he left without paying court-ordered maintenance of 30 shillings a month even though he was earning good money as a contractor near Dargaville.

He was subsequently arrested and sent home from South Africa in disgrace for giving false enlistment details. On his return he made contact with his sons, and found work for them in the Northland bush.

When war broke out, the Browne boys enlisted. The first family casualty was Trooper James Browne. He sailed first to Apia with the Samoan Advance Party, and was discharged in April 1915. He rejoined and left for Suez on August 14, 1915 with the Auckland Mounted Rifles. He survived Gallipoli, but not the vicious Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, when Ottoman defenders, secure in machine gun nests, inflicted heavy losses on Allied forces. Jim Browne, 26, was cut down outside unit lines.

His brother William Browne, 27, also survived Gallipoli. He suffered a thigh wound and spent 10 days in hospital in Egypt before being posted to the Western Front.

William Browne, Archibald Browne.

Lance Corporal Browne met his end, along with 80 others, during the NZ Division's push up Polderhoek Spur in Flanders on December 5, 1917, when German soldiers held the upper hand in pillboxes by the ruins of a chateau. He is buried in Belgium's Tyne Cot Cemetery.

Archibald Harcourt Brown sailed with reinforcements in June 1917 where he spent four days in the ship's hospital with the flu. A few weeks later the young plumber was sent from the frontline to the New Zealand general hospital on the Salisbury Plains for hernia treatment. He returned to France and the Auckland Infantry Regiment until he was shot in the shoulder and chest.

Admitted to the No1 NZ Field Ambulance Hospital, Private Archie Browne died from his injuries on September 14, 1918.

Arthur George Browne was the fourth brother claimed by the war. At 19 he was officially too young for service. His mother gave permission for his enlistment, and the fair-haired, blue-eyed teenager sailed for London with the 42nd Reinforcements in August 1918. Soon after disembarking, he was admitted to hospital at Tidworth with measles. Returning to New Zealand aboard the Zealandia, the young soldier fell ill. He died of peritonitis in Wellington's Victoria Hospital on March 13, 1919.

Edward, or Ted, was the sole survivor. He was among the landing party at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. Wounded in August, he recovered in England before returning to the front in France in April 1916. Within two months he was back in hospital with pleurisy. In November he was sent home. Ted Browne later ran a boarding house at Piha. He seldom spoke about the war and died, aged 81, in 1970.

- NZ Herald

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