Cpl Walter Ernest Brown VC DCM
Born in Tasmania, Wally Brown was a grocer in Sydney when he enlisted in 1915. He embarked from Sydney on 23 October 1915 to join the 1st Light Horse Regiment in Egypt. In 1916 he transferred to the 20 Battalion (20 Bn) and finally taken on battalion strength battalion in France in August 1917. During fighting around Passchendaele between 5 and 10 October 1917, he tended to wounded under heavy fire and took charge of his section when his sergeant was killed.
For his actions during the fighting, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. On 7 April 1918 he was promoted to corporal.
On 6 July, following the Battle of Hamel, Brown was detailed as part of 20Bn’s advance party for the relief of 21Bn on the right of Vaire Wood. Brown was told of a German sniper that had been causing problems and went forward to ‘have a pot at them.’ Working his way along the shallow trench Brown spied a mound approximately 70 yards across the open ground when he heard a shot fired. Surmising that this was the source of the enemy sniper he discarded his rifle in favour of two Mills bombs (hand grenades) and rushed the mound. When another shot was fired he threw one of the bombs, which fell short, and dropped to the ground. After a few minutes when there was no reaction from the mound, he again rushed forward. Presently he found himself looking down into a trench, empty apart from an unmanned German machine gun at the entrance to a dugout.
Jumping into the trench he reached the dugout entrance just as a German emerged. Brown struck the German who fell back down the stairs. Unaware of the existence of another entrance to the dugout behind him, Brown turned to see other Germans appearing. Reluctant to throw his one remaining Mills bomb, he stood his ground and used it as a threat toward the enemy troops. The enemy troops immediately surrendered though Brown had to place himself in line of sight of both entrances while the prisoners moved over the parapet toward the Australian lines. He had managed to single handedly capture 13 Germans, including a highly prized officer.
He followed the prisoners and handed them over to 21Bn to be taken to the rear before promptly resuming his former duties.
For his actions in the capture of the German trench, Brown was awarded the Victoria Cross. Historian Charles Bean noted that Brown was ‘indeed the type of man certain to distinguish himself in this way if he survived.’
On 7 October he was presented with his VC by King George V at Sandringham. After the Armistice he was granted leave to undertake a cinematic course at the Victoria Cinema College in London followed by employment with the Imperial Film Company..
He returned to Australia on board the ‘Nestor’ on 15 Dec 1919 and discharge on 15 Feb 1920. Following his return to Australia he lived in Sydney before taking a position with the NSW Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission in Leeton in 1930.
He married Maude Dillon on 4 June 1932 at Bexley.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, he re-enlisted stating his age was 39 when in fact it was 54, and was with the 2/15 Field Regiment in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Brown was last seen in the hours prior to the capitulation disappearing toward the enemy lines saying, ‘No surrender for me.’ His body was never recovered.
His name is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial. as Walter Ernest Brown VC DCM and was survived by his wife and two children, though their seven-year-old son died of meningitis the following year.