WILLIAM BROWN (1894-1915)

14554 Private William Brown 15th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 25 September 1915 and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.[1]  He was 20 years old, unmarried and commemorated on the West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, West Auckland Memorial Institute.

Family Details

William was born 22 August 1894[2] at West Auckland the son of William and Margaret Brown.  There were at least 8 children, all born at West Auckland:[3]

  • William born 1894
  • Meggie bc.1897
  • Elizabeth bc.1899
  • John Thomas bc.1900
  • Beatrice bc.1903
  • Albert bc.1905
  • George bc.1908
  • son bc.1911 (3 weeks old and unnamed)

In 1901, the family lived at New Street, West Auckland where 30 year old William worked as a coal miner (hewer).[4]  By 1911, they lived at 43 Darlington Road, West Auckland and both father and 17 year old son William worked as coal miners.[5]

Service Details

William Brown enlisted at Bishop Auckland into the 15th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry and was allocated the regimental number 14554.[6]  The service record of 14554 Private William Brown has not been traced but since he entered France 11 September 1915 [7] with his battalion, it is suggested that he was a volunteer to Kitchener’s call.  He may well have volunteered along with William Gardner from St. Helen’s who was given the regimental number 14543 and also served with 15/DLI.  He died of wounds 3 May 1917.[8]

The 15th (Service) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was formed in September 1914 as part of K3, Kitchener’s New Army and came under the orders of the 64th Brigade, 21st Division.[9]  At this time, the 64th Brigade comprised:

  • 9th Bn., the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI)
  • 10th Bn., KOYLI
  • 14th Bn., Durham Light Infantry (DLI)
  • 15th Bn., DLI

Advanced parties embarked for France 2 September 1915 and the main body began to cross the Channel five days later. Units moved to assemble near Tilques, completing concentration 13 September. [10]  Private W. Brown entered France 11 September 1915. [11]

The Division’s first experience was truly appalling.  Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought it into the reserve for the British assault at Loos.  GHQ planning left it too far behind to be a useful reinforcement on the first day, but it was sent into action on 26 September, whereupon it suffered over 3,800 casualties for very little gain. [12]

The Battle of Loos:  25 September – 8 October 1915 [13]

 The Battle of Loos formed a part of the wider Artois-Loos Offensive conducted by the French and British in autumn 1915, sometimes referred to as the Second Battle of Artois.  The Artois campaigns comprised the major allied offensive on the Western Front during 1915.  Along with the attack against Loos by the British, French troops launched offensives at Champagne (the Second Battle of Champagne) and at Vimy Ridge near Arras. [14]

The strategy involved:

  • A four day artillery bombardment of the German positions
  • Full scale infantry attack in the area between Loos and the La Bassee Canal
  • Diversionary attacks to the north at Bois Grenier and Pietre (between Armentieres and La Bassee Canal).
  • Once the German positions fell, reserves aided by cavalry, would pass through the gap and attack the German second line.

The following British units took part in the battle:

  • The I Corps: 2nd Division, 7th Division, 9th Division, 28th Division
  • The IV Corps: 3rd Cavalry Division, 1st Division, 15th Division, 47th Division
  • The XI Corps: Guards Division, 12th Division, 21st Division, 24th Division
  • Indian Corps: 19th Division, Meerut Division.

Subsidiary attacks 25 September 1915


  • Indian Corps: Meerut Division

Bois Grenier

  • III Corps: 8th Division

Second attack on Bellewaarde

  • V Corps: 3rd Division
  • VI Corps: 14th Division

Subsequent action of Hohenzollern Redoubt:  13 -19 October 1915

  • IV Corps: 1st Division, 47th Division
  • XI Corps: Guards Division, 2nd Division, 12th Division, 46th Division

Two “New Army” Divisions, the 21st (which included 15/DLI) and 24th were the reserve forces.  They had only recently arrived in France, had not seen the trenches and were untested in battle.

20 September: The Divisions started moving from St. Omer with marches of over 20 miles throughout successive nights and finally, moved by a night march into the Loos Valley.  Progress was slow and exhausting.  They had been on the move constantly for several days.  The ground was unfamiliar, roads and tracks were jammed with transport going in both directions and communication trenches were flooded and packed with men.

25 September: The Loos offensive began following a 4 day artillery bombardment in which 250,000 shells were fired including 140 tons of chlorine gas discharged from more than 5,000 cylinders. 75,000 British infantry made the initial attack.

The southern section of the attack, conducted by the IV Corps made significant progress, capturing Loos and moving forward towards Lens.  However, the need for supplies and reinforcements brought the advance to a halt at the end of the first day.  Delays whilst travelling meant that the reserves arrived at night time.

Fortunes on the first day of battle were mixed, to the north, the I Corps made less progress than the IV Corps but the 7th and 9th Divisions managed to establish a foothold on the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

There was some “bad luck”, for instance poison gas released with smoke into light winds before the infantry went forward, hung between the lines and in some places blew back at the British forces!  Along the length of the front advancing masses of troops emerging from the smoke screen were met with devastating machine gun fire.  Losses were appalling and the worst yet suffered by the British Expeditionary Force – there would be 8,500 dead by the end of the first day.

The delay in bringing up the reserves was a critical failure as the Germans were able to pour in their reserves and counter-attack the following day.  Thus, any realistic chance of success had been lost on the first day.

The 21st and 24th Divisions saw action in front of the formidable second line defences at Hulluch and Hill 70.  The British infantry advanced without any preliminary artillery bombardment and were decimated by German machine gun fire.  The inexperienced New Army divisions, already exhausted by their long march, fought hard but were driven back.

27 September: The arrival of the Guards Division stabilised the line thereafter the offensive disintegrated.   After several days of sporadic fighting, the British eventually were forced to retreat and Fosse 8 and the Hohenzollern Redoubt were lost in the following days.

13 October:  The Loos attack was renewed and further heavy losses, more than 2,000 killed, combined with poor weather caused the offensive to be called off.

19 October: offensive called off.

During the battle the British suffered 61,000 casualties, (20,000 dead) 50,000 of them in the action between Loos and Givenchy and the remainder in the subsidiary attacks. Many New Army units, rushed into the battle area for the first time only a matter of days after landing in France were devastated.  German casualties were estimated at half the British total.

15/DLI: in action.[15]

12 September: train to the St. Omer district, 14/DLI went to Nielles-les-Ardres and the 15/DLI to the Ardres-St. Omer road.

19 – 24 September: 15/DLI also marched at night through Houchin and reached their destination on the 24th and 19 – 25 September: 14/DLI marched at night through Arques, Lambres, Esquedecques to Noeux-les-Mines then bivouacked on the afternoon 25 September.

“The concluding march of both battalions was particularly wearisome by reason of the frequent delays at level crossings.”

25 September:  7.15pm, 64th Brigade moved off through Mazingarbe and Vermelles, in support of the 63rd Brigade.

“The men were wet, tired and hungry, for all had been sacrificed to get the division into battle with the least possible delay.”

25 September:  9.00pm, 64th Brigade prepared for their advance into the line – unloading of Lewis guns, ammunition, bombs and tools.  There was no time to reconnoitre the ground.  At midnight, the 64th moved forward – 14/DLI and 15/DLI leading the column.

26 September: 1.00am, the rain stopped, trenches could be jumped or bridged by planks – further delays!

2.00am – “Now and then shells burst near….Patrols went out in search for the 63rd but could find no trace of them…The 15th settled down in a trench about a quarter of a mile in rear but there was not room for all of them so one company fell back to the la Basse road on the northern outskirts of Loos…The whereabouts of the enemy and the dispositions of the British troops in this portion of the field was as yet unknown.

Daylight: The congestion of traffic during the night was the cause of the delay and when the sun dispersed the morning mists the German shell fire stopped all movement on the road.  The enemy batteries soon began to take their toll of the brigade, casualties including Lieut. V.B. Odhams, of the 15th, who was mortally wounded about this time…Orders had been issued for an attack by the 21st and 24th Divisions.

11.00am – the 24th Division advanced …the 15th Battalion in support now linked up the right of the 63rd Brigade with the troops advancing from Loos…the Durhams were pulled round towards Hill 70 and suffered heavily through enfilade machine-gun fire from Chalk Pit Wood.  Lieut.-Col. E.T. Logan had already fallen, mortally wounded, while gallantly leading the 15th…Soon the troops on the right of the Durhams began to retire.”

12.30pm:  the whole line was in retreat.

2.00pm:  another advance by the survivors of the Durhams and the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry of the 64th Brigade.

“Heavily punished in flank by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets and unsupported by the British gunners…the infantry had no chance of success.  The inevitable retreat was conducted under intense shell fire and the German bombardment continued till dusk…Many of the severely wounded had to remain where they fell.  The exhausted survivors suffered torture from thirst – they had no chance of refilling their water bottles – remained in the old German trenches till they were relieved by the Guards in the early morning of September 27th.”

“The losses of the Durhams were very heavy…Besides the officers already mentioned the 15th Major R.B.Johnson; Capts.  L.A. de V. Carey, H. Wardell and G.T.Fitzgerald; Lieut. E.M. Carter; 2nd Lieuts. J.W.L. Birbeck, E. Partridge, H.A.Boulton, C.H. Readman and Putron wounded.  There were no less than 450 casualties in the ranks.”

 A first-hand account [16]

The following details are from an account provided by W. Walker, 13/Northumberland Fusiliers, 62nd Brigade, 21st Division.

“The 21st Division landed in France in the early part of September 1915.  For a solid fortnight we marched over many a dusty mile of white road and doubled over the green fields towards an imaginary foe…the places we passed through I have forgotten all but Noeux-le-Mines and Bethune…No one seemed to know where we were bound for.  A push, we understood, was about to begin and we were going up to chase the enemy from the field…When I opened my eyes on Saturday morning, September 25th, I could see an aeroplane flying high…we hastened on…We had not gone many kilometres when a new though distant sound could be heard, like a far-away thunder with now and again a louder boom…The roadside gave evidence of our near approach to the battle.  All possible and impossible litter of war – old wrecked wagons, chairs, bedsteads…and in the ditch a dead mule lay, feet in the air, its belly torn out by shell fire…A Scots division had been heavily engaged with the enemy; they had suffered tremendous losses.  For an hour or two a continuous stream of their wounded had trickled past us on their way to the rear.  Most of them were hit about the arms.  They looked grim and bloody.

We trampled on…After stumbling on for another half-hour sometimes up to the knees in liquid mud I could observe by the lights of the sky signals the ruined outline of a village.  It was Loos….The village was slowly vanishing under the pounding of the guns… My company halted in the village street.  It began to rain…Suddenly zip!…A bullet sang past us viciously and buried itself in the crumbling wall behind…Ping!…this time finding a bullet in the thigh of a chap in No.1 Platoon…That was the first drop of blood shed by the 13th NF’s so far as I’m aware.  Sure enough it was a sniper…Then there began to burst above us some kind of shell.  We flopped on our stomachs when this began.  The ground was a quagmire but mud was better than blood…So far we have seen no enemy…Bullets started dropping all around us like heavy thunder rain…It was Sunday…In the early light an appalling scene lay before us.  The ground was strewn with dead and dying men…Pieces of horse and gun equipment and the motley gear of war lay everywhere…Behind the blackening cocks of hay lay men in the attitude of firing, now dead.  One lay not 2 yards from my feet, a giant Scotsman stretched out in the posture of crucifixion.  Leaning against a wall was a young fair lad of the Lincolnshire’s, kneeling as if in prayer; his hands clasped, his twisted face crimson from an ugly gash in his temple. ”


W. Walker, 13/NF was wounded in the attack 26 September – a machine gun bullet through the elbow joint and underwent 10 months hospital treatment before being deemed to be unfit for further active service.

According to Capt. Miles, the 15/DLI did not attack the German lines until 26 September therefore given that Private W. Brown is recorded as killed in action 25 September this seems unlikely unless:

  • The advancing reserve battalions were subject to bombardment from German artillery prior to taking up their position in the front line.
  • He was the victim of sniper fire (as witnessed by the correspondent, W. Walker) whilst on the way to the front.
  • Or perhaps some other unfortunate accident occurred during the night march, 24/25 September.

Given the obvious chaos of the situation, perhaps there was an administrational error which would be perfectly understandable.  With so many casualties, killed, wounded and missing, was it possible to compile accurate reports?

The 15/DLI suffered 462 casualties including Lt-Col. E. T. Logan Officer-in-Command who was killed in action.  Later research records that 1 officer and 69 other ranks were killed in action 25 September.  There were 3 men from the Gaunless Valley area killed in action and commemorated on the Loos Memorial: [17]

  • Private William Brown of West Auckland
  • Serjeant Edgar Towers of Evenwood
  • Private Fred Thompson of Butterknowle

Between 25 September and 8 October, 3 officers and 100 other ranks were killed in action or died of wounds. [18]

The New Army units had taken part in an offensive action for the first time and suffered heavily.  The typical attacking strength of a battalion at the time was 650-750 men, casualties were approximately 66%.

The battle witnessed some significant “firsts”:

  • the first “Big Push.”
  • the first blooding of Kitchener’s New Army.
  • the first use of  poison gas by the British army.

It had been a costly failure and consequently, Field-Marshal Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force resigned 10 December 1915.  General Sir Douglas Haig was appointed as his successor.  Little operational analysis was carried out and regrettably, many lessons of the failure at Loos were not learned.  Many mistakes were repeated with uncanny similarity on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.

Private W. Brown was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory medals.[19]


 Private W. Brown has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial located in Loos-en-Gohelle, Pas de Calais, France.  It commemorates over 20,000 officers and men who have no known grave who fell in the area from the River Lys to the old southern boundary of the First Army, east and west of Grenay. [20]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England: Selected Births & Christenings 1538-1975

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[7] Medal Roll

[8] SDGW



[11] Medal Roll card index


[13] “The Great War: a History – Volume 1” F.A. Mumby et al p.52: CWGC 1915: The Battle of Loos leaflet


[15] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: the Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” 1920 Capt. W. Miles p.20-24

[16] This account was first published in “Everyman at War” 1930 edited by C.B. Purdom

[17] CWGC

[18] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[19] Medal Roll card index

[20] CWGC


BROWN W. Loos Inscription

Loos Inscription

BROWN W. Medal Roll

Medal Roll