John Clifford Browne
|Birthplace:||Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK|
|Death:||Died in Sailly, Yvelines, Île-de-France, France|
|Cause of death:||Shelling of trenches occupied by his regiment, 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshires (Prince of Wales Own)|
|Place of Burial:||Vermelles, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France|
|Managed by:||Anthony Robert Leach|
About John Clifford Browne
Private John Clifford Browne, Service Number 24478, arrived in France as a reinforcement for the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales' Own) sometime early in 1916 (his medal index card does not provide an exact date, and his service records are lost). Based on similar service numbers for those killed in action, he was present on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, and was involved in the initial disastrous attack along the Somme front.
The 2nd Battalion West Yorkshires was part of the 23rd Infantry Brigade of the 8th Division whose assigned sector of the line comprised the 'Mash' valley with the objective of capturing the salients of Orvillers and La Boiselle. The 23rd brigade comprised the 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment on the left, the 2nd Battalion Devon Regiment on the right, the West Yorkshires formed the support battalion, with the 2nd Battalion Scottish Rifles in reserve. By 7h30 am the Middlesex and Devons had left the front line trenches and advanced across no-mans land as the preceding artillery barrage was lifted. Because of the valley, no-mans land here was wider than at any other point on the Somme front (500 to 700m), and (despite the shelling) the Germans rapidly re-established machine gun positions on the La Boiselle and Orvillers salients with clear fields of fire overlooking no-mans land. The Middlesex and Devon battalions were shot to pieces, with only a few survivors reaching the German front line, who were not seen again.
A and B company of the West Yorkshires then followed the Middlesex and Devons. D and C companies of the West Yorkshires moved up to the British front line trenches, once these were vacated, only to find the Germans were shelling them quite heavily. D company advanced and C was told to wait until around 8h23 am, when they were told to advance with the Battalion Headquarters staff as the German machine gun fire had died down. However it was immediately apparent that this was because all movement in no-mans land had ceased. Most of the men who had advanced were dead, with the survivors hidden in shell holes. Any movement immediately attracted a hail of bullets. Many wounded men succeeded in crawling back to the British trenches during the day and at 10h30pm that night officer patrols were sent out to bring the remaining survivors back in.
The attack had completely failed and the brigades to north and south of the 23rd suffered similar fates.
Of the original 21 officers and 702 other ranks that comprised the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshires at dawn on 1 July only 5 officers and 212 men came out of action and reported at the roll call - though many of the missing were lost or wounded and rejoined the battalion over the next few weeks. Fatal casualties were higher in the leading Middlesex and Devon Battalions. The 8th Division was relieved by the 12th Division that night, and the 2nd West Yorkshire survivors were then withdrawn to villages behind the lines, from where they moved north with the rest of 8th Division to a section of the front some 20 miles north of the Somme.
The 2nd West Yorkshires moved to the front line again, now at Boyeau, Sailly La Bourse, on 22 July. The opposing trenches were close together, resulting in little peace and continual mortar bombing, throwing of grenades, and tunneling to place mines to detonate under enemy trenches occurred. On 30th July the Germans sent two strong parties to attack a section of trench with the aim of destroying tunnels. These were beaten off.
After a further short relief, the Battalion was back in the front line at Boyeau in what was referred to as the Hohenzollern Sector on 7 August. Just after 8 pm on 12 August the Germans commenced a heavy artillery bombardment of the British trenches and in many places the defences were completely flattened out. A German infantry attack followed by the 23rd Bavarian Reserve Regiment, which was beaten off by A and D companies of the West Yorkshires. A company lost four dead, and D company 11 dead, 7 of whom were buried when a deep dugout collapsed. All the dead were the result of the shelling. One of the dead was Private Clifford Browne.