Belfast Telegraph

Plans to honour WWI hero who saved boy's life

By Dave Whelan

A Decorated WWI hero who saved the life of a drowning boy in the River Lagan while on recovery leave could be honoured at the scene of his gallantry. Captain John Brown MC was killed on his return to action.

Now local people have launched a campaign to mark Captain Brown's heroics at the Albert Bridge spanning the River Lagan.

Researcher Nigel Henderson inspired south Belfast community worker Billy Dickson to begin the campaign after he gave a talk on the little known hero at the Dee Street community centre. Mr Dickson aims to have a memorial placed at the bridge to tell the former Richardson's worker's story.

Mr Henderson has gathered artciles from the Belfast News Letter at the time which tell how John Brown joined the East Belfast Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles on the formation of the Ulster Division on the opening of the war in August 1914.

He was wounded in the shoulder at the opening of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, but not before being awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry in action.

An article from the time of his recovery read: "An evening rescue scene was witnessed on Friday afternoon at the spot where Albert Bridge spans the River Lagan. While crossing the bridge in a tramcar Second Lieutenant John Brown, who has won the Military Medal in the field, and who is at present at home recovering from a wound in the shoulder, observed a crowd looking over the parapet.

"He hurried off the car and saw a boy in the water in imminent danger of being drowned. Having thrown off his coat, Lieutenant Brown climbed over the railing and jumped into the water, which was about eight feet deep. He grasped hold of the boy, but his progress towards the shore was considerably hindered by the thick mud, which rendered footing almost impossible. With the assistance of the police and several of the onlookers the plucky rescuer and the lad were brought safely to land.

"Lieutenant Brown, having resumed his coat, was conveyed to his home, 3 Ailsa Terrace, Holywood Road, in a passing motor car. He is a son of Mr. S.S. Brown the Assistant Postmaster of Belfast. It has been suggested that the occurrence be brought under the notice of the Lord Mayor (Sir Crawford McCullagh J.P.) with a view to the officer's heroic conduct being recommended to the Royal Humane Society."

Lieutenant Brown did receive the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society for his bravery and after recovering from his wounds returned to the front and received a bar to his Military Cross early in 1917.

The soldier was reported wounded and missing on March 21, 1918, the day the great German offensive opened, on the battlefield at Contescourt.

An article later confirming his death on that date described him as: "A young man of splendid physique - he was well over six feet in height - Captain Brown invariably set a fine example of courage and initiative, and he enjoyed the warm regard of the officers not only of the East Belfast Volunteers, but also of the distinguished line battalion in which he was serving when he fell in action.

"As unassuming as he was daring, he inspired the men under his command by his skill and resource in leadership, and his personal popularity with the rank and file was unquestioned."

The move to erect a memorial to the soldier at the bridge was proposed by members of the East Belfast Area Partnership during a recent presentation by the Department of Social Development regarding a proposed public realm scheme at Central Station/East Bridge Street.

A spokesperson for the DSD said that the suggestion had been forwarded to the consultants for consideration as is normal practice.

Researcher Nigel Henderson described the story of John Brown as unique. "When you do this type of work it's so rewarding when you are able to piece together a story with a specific instance and a specific place and pinpoint history.

"It's great to be able to to put people in touch with their history and in most instances it's the first time families and relatives will have seen photos. Here we have a Belfast man who showed actual gallantry in Belfast and actually gallantry on the front in France before giving up his life at such a young age. It really brings the story home and puts a face to the masses who left Belfast never to return."

Nigel's work can be accessed through

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