John Buswell Brown was the last, and the hardest, name to find on the Milton Abbas Grammar School (MAGS) memorial. As my starting point all there was to go on is the single mention of “Pte. J. B. Brown,Canadians.” at the unveiling of the MAGS memorial in December 1921 reported in the Western Gazette.
After exhaustive searches of the census records for all of Dorset and every surrounding county no suitable ‘J B Browns’ appeared amongst a very large number of Browns. Incidentally I did find some quite interesting candidates along the way but they either didn’t make it to Canada or they survived the war! A search of ‘J B Browns’ on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission register, even after whittling down unlikely candidates, still left over 30 to research in depth.
A search of the Canadian WW1 Records, which as they have survived intact, (unlike the British Army records which were mainly destroyed in a fire during WW2), gave some leads for suitable ‘J B Browns’. Most of these were Scottish so they could probably be discounted, but John Buswell Brown seemed to have the right background to have been a boarder at MAGS as his father was a Bank Manager, but in Lincolnshire.
William Brown was the Manager of the Capital and Counties Bank in Horncastle in Lincolnshire, as the entry in Kelly’s Directory for Horncastle in 1896 shows:
Thus whilst it still seems a little bit of a stretch to link John Buswell to Blandford in Dorset, the Head of MAGS between 1888 and 1900, the Rev Frederick Thomas Harrison was born in Horncastle to a well established county family. Horncastle in the 19th century had a small and declining population roughly similar in size to that of Blandford and whilst I can find no definitive proof that John Buswell was a pupil at MAGS it seems improbably unlikely that he isn’t our man.
So, John Buswell Brown was born in April 1880 the twin of Annie Brown the 7th and 8th children of William and Sarah Brown of Horncastle, Lincolnshire. William was born in Scotland and had settled in Horncastle in the 1860’s to work as a Clerk for Garfit Claypon and Co Bank in time rising to be cashier and eventually the manager of the Horncastle branch. When Capital and Counties Bank acquired the business in 1891, William had been manager for 10 years. William and Sarah tragically died at home within 12 hours of each other in March 1901.
There are no records of John’s time in Blandford but after leaving school he next turns up on a passenger list for Philadelphia bound for Stratford Ontario aged 27 aboard the SS Merion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Merion from Liverpool arriving 8 April 1908. The ledger is hand written and is hard to make out but under occupation he appears to call himself a Station Manager.
For the next 6 years John appears to have lived in Toronto working as a clerk until war broke out in August 1914. His service records show that he volunteered on 11th September 1915 but on the day he ‘lost’ 6 years stating his date of birth to be 1st April 1886 making him ’29’ instead of his actual 35 years. He was still single and nominated his eldest sister Ethel who had married a Chemist in Leamington Spa as his next of kin. He was passed as medically fit for overseas service. John claimed to have served as a Territorial with the Lincolnshire Regiment for 5 years which cannot be verified, but his older brother William was commissioned with the 4th Battalion in June 1915.
John arrived in England after training in May 1916 joining the 19th Battalion CEF at the end of July and by his records spent just over a year with them in France. This means he could very well have been at Vimy Ridge. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/19th_Battalion_(Central_Ontario),_CEF
His discharge documents refer to his real age as John appears to have become quite unwell in July 1917 and is diagnosed with VDH (Valvular Disease of the Heart) https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/what-were-vdh-and-dah/ he was medically discharged in June 1918 and returned to Canada.
John died just over a year later in September 1919 and is buried under a CWGC headstone in Toronto (St John’s Norway) Cemetery with 121 other WW1 casualties less than a mile from his house in Kippendavie Avenue.