A few days after he arrived back in France, 17-year-old Stephen Brown seemed to recover a little positivity, at least in his postcards to his mother. But tragedy was looming.
His last postcards home had been a desperate attempt to get his mother to contact his commanding officer and “say I am only seventeen”, and a few days later a single line to let her know that it was too late, and he had left for France.
After joining the army before the war, Stephen Ernest Brown had spent only a few months in France. He had already been invalided out once with frostbite, had spent just over a week in an English hospital, and was now being sent back to the front.
“I arrived quite safe”
give my love to all at home from your ever loving son
From the base camp in Rouen, en route to rejoin the 4th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles, he sent a postcard to his mother on 30 April 1915.
Just a line to let you know that I arrived quite safe I hope you are quite well as it leaves me the same give my love to all at home from your ever loving son,
“I remain yours truly”
Before the day was over, Stephen had written his mother a second postcard.
Just a line to let you know that I sent you all a photo of myself outside a tent door with two of my mates hope you will get them safe hoping you are in the best of health as I am myself. Goodbye for the present. I remain yours truly,
The end of Stephen’s story
In the spring of 1915 Stephen’s battalion were participating in the tail end of the Second Battle of Ypres.
He seems to have moved up to join them shortly after sending these postcards. Less than a fortnight later he was missing.
On 10 May 1915, Stephen’s body was found by fellow soldiers. His service record, pictured below, has a handwritten ‘Died of Wounds’ note on it.
These two postcards may have been the last ones he sent, or possibly they were just the only ones to survive.
A letter from Stephen’s mother
In January 1916, Ellen Mary Brown, Stephen’s mother, wrote a short letter to his commanding officer. The letter is included in his army service record, and is pictured at the top of this blog post. It reads as follows:
I had notice that you had been authorised to forward my son’s articles of private property to me
“Officer in Charge
King’s Royal Rifles
I had notice from the Secretary War Office, St James Park that you had been authorised to forward my son’s, the late no. 4801 Rifleman Stephen E Brown 4th Batt King’s Royal Rifles, articles of private property on to me. Not having received them yet would you kindly let me know if you have forwarded them to me yet or when I am likely to have them.
A note added to the letter by army personnel reads “Informed no effects forthcoming 7.1.16”. Presumably Stephen didn’t have many surviving personal effects. Perhaps they had been lost or inherited by comrades, or maybe he was buried with those he had on his person.
Stephen’s name is recorded on the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres. It is one of 58,896 names of soldiers who went missing in the Salient.