Walter was the youngest of the three sons of Ernest Edwin Brown and his wife Emma. Ernest had been a regular soldier for 20 years with the Dorsetshire Regiment until 1913 when he retired on a full pension. He had seen imperial service in Gibraltar, Malta, South Africa and India, being awarded both the South Africa Medal and the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. Ernest and Emma’s eldest son, Frederick, was born in barracks in Dorchester in 1912. Ernest rejoined the Army in 1915 at the age of 40 to serve in the Labour Corps from which he was discharged as medically unfit in 1918 ‘as a result of service’. Walter, his youngest son was born in March 1919. Ernest must have struggled with ill health thereafter as the 1939 survey lists him as ‘Incapacitated through Army Service’.
Ernest and Emma had three boys, Frederick (b 1912) Philip (b 1914) and Walter (b 1919) The 1939 survey shows that Frederick, an Electrician, was serving with the Royal Engineers; Philip a Bricklayer was serving with the Royal Tank Regiment and not shown on the 1939 register was Walter who ended up in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (the branch that dealt with ammunition supply).
Currently, although I have applied the release of his service records, I cannot give Walter’s date of enlistment other than to say that Walter left Liverpool aboard the SS Anselm on the 28th June 1941 bound for the Middle East the long way round the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and up the Red Sea to Egypt. This route was crucial to the Allied effort in North Africa as crossing the Mediterranean was simply too hazardous. Some 1.2 million service personnel took this route throughout the length of the war.
A week out from Liverpool and still some 300 miles north of the Azores SS Anselm and her Royal Navy escort vessels were spotted by a Luftwaffe long range reconnaissance aircraft (Fw 200 Condor) which relayed their position to the U-Boat U96. Anslem was heavily overcrowded, carrying some 1200 troops when she was only designed to carry 500. Early on the 5th July, 04:40 Anselm was struck by one of five torpedoes fired by the U96. This was just minutes before first light and the U96 was determinedly attacked by the escort vessels who fired some 26 depth charges but had to break off the attack when they came too close to the survivors in the water. U96 suffered significant damage and had to return to base in St Nazaire for repair.
Anselm was damaged below the water line with many access ladders to the lower decks damaged many men were injured and trapped below. The ship sank some 22 minutes after being struck with 2 officers and 63 other ranks lost. Luckily however most men on board survived including Anselm’s Master, Andrew Elliot and 92 of her crew. Initially most survivors were picked up by HMS Challenger, a survey vessel (970) and also HMS Stalwart a rescue tug (240).
The loss of Troopships was a sensitive matter and as a letter in the National Archives’ file on the loss of the Anselm puts it the information could be given to next of kin ‘should they request it’ but should not be released to the press nor disclosed to any other person. Indeed the Browns were only able to publish a notice in the Western Gazette in August 1942 over a year later.
Aside from the Blandford Grammar School Memorial, Walter is commemorated at Marnhull and at the RAOC memorial in Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.