Granddad was Somme hero

THOMAS Brown who died in the first Battle of the Somme, leaving a young widow and a daughter
THOMAS Brown who died in the first Battle of the Somme, leaving a young widow and a daughter

A PENSIONER has lived most of his life unaware that an ancestor had been a war hero.

It is only in the last five years that Robert Findlay, now 77, has found out that his grandfather from West Hartlepool fought and died in the First World War.

His grandfather Thomas Brown’s life was a short one. At just 23, he was cut down in the prime of his life, just like many others who fought in the first Battle of The Somme.

He left behind a wife and a daughter. The love of his life was an Irish girl called Nora Coughlin who was from Fermoy in County Cork, Ireland.

They had a daughter, Mary Frances Brown, and soon after becoming a dad, Thomas was deployed to barracks in Aldershot.

Pretty soon, he joined the hundreds of thousands of men who bravely went over the top on the front line. Sadly, he was one of the first to fall at Ypres.

Thomas’s story has been followed by Jacquie Findlay, 71, from Shepton Mallett in Somerset, the wife of Robert who only recently found out that his grandfather had served his country on the front line.

Mother-of-two Jacquie, a former post office worker, said: “I have been into my family tree for some time. Robert’s brother had found some medals and paraphernalia. He was delving through the papers and when he heard that I was researching the family tree, he passed them on to me.”

Jacquie said her husband only had “a vague idea” that his grandfather had been a soldier.

But he had certainly never seen the photograph which showed a proud young man in his military regalia, ready to serve the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.

And he didn’t know that granddad Thomas had died a hero at The Somme.

Jacquie has found out some facts about Thomas. He was born in West Hartlepool in 1891. “We know his father was called John and he was a bricklayer from Knowle Street in Hartlepool.”

Jacquie added: “At some point Thomas joined The Kings Shropshire Light Infantry and was sent to Fermoy in County Cork where he met his future wife Norah Coughlin from Fermoy.

“He was 21 and she was 18.”

Robert signed up for the Army and married his sweetheart Nora inside the Army barracks on August 18, 1912.

A daughter called Mary Francis Brown (who is Robert’s mother) became the newest addition to the family on November 26, 1913, before Thomas headed off to war.

Jacqui said: “At some point in 1914 he was sent to Deptford, London, and then to Aldershot where he was mobilised for war.

“He was in the 1st Battalion which landed at St Nazaire France on September 10.

“Then, it was on to Ypres where he died on October 25, 1914. All that we know is that the war started in the August of 1914 and he died in the first Battle of the Somme on October 25, 1914. He was only 23,” said Jacquie.

“We found out that he was buried at Ploegsteert in Belgium. We have never been there and we only found all of this out in the last five years.

“I am hoping that someone out there can help me with more information about Thomas in West Hartlepool.”

Jacquie certainly has plenty of information on Francis Mary, the young daughter of Thomas Brown. Jacquie said: “She was a lovely Irish lady and I was lucky enough to have her as my mother in law. She sadly died in 1976.

“She was married to Glen James Findlay from Glasgow, who was in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. They had three sons.”

Anyone who can help with more information on Thomas Brown is urged to contact Chris Cordner on (01429) 239377 or email