Torment of the missed meeting and the family torn apart by the First World War
16:31 29 July 2014
It is a heartbreaking tale which lays bare the random cruelties unleashed by the First World War.
When James William Browne, a gamekeeper from Hemblington, near Blofield, enlisted, he was first sent to Scotland, missing the birth of his fourth son, Harry.
From there, his unit were to be sent to France. But, by happy chance, the train taking him south was due to call at Norwich to pick up more troops.
He arranged with his wife to meet briefly at the station and she set off, on foot, with their four sons. She left plenty of time for the 10 mile journey, stopping overnight in Sprowston. The following morning, the four young boys – aged, six, four, two and the newborn – and their mother set off the final few miles... only to reach the station, as the train just pulled out.
Browne was never to meet his youngest son, Harry, nor see his wife or three other sons again, for he was killed, aged 34, at the Battle of the Somme.
The story is one of dozens of such tales which will be featured in our bumper supplement with Saturday’s newspaper, marking the war’s outbreak. The special edition will carry the names of the more than 15,000 men from our region who fell in the fighting, and recount the stories of many of them, like Browne.
His tale has been provided by Barbara Pilch, a local historian from Blofield, to whom it was recounted by another of Browne’s sons, Arthur – who was then four – before his death last year, at the age of 100. He had written: “My mother got news to say he was off to France on a certain day.
“He was travelling by train stopping at Norwich Thorpe Station to pick up some more soldiers. The day before my mother took us four boys, Harry, a few months old, George, two years, myself, four years and Jimmy, six years.
“We walked all the way, with her pushing a pram to Sprowston to my aunt’s.
“We spent the night there and in the morning we all went to Thorpe Station, walking, to see my father go off.
“Now comes the sad bit. We arrived at the station and the train had just pulled out... Every time I think about this I have to cry.”
Mr Browne remembers his mother weeping when she received letters reporting his father as missing. Confirmation of his death did not come until March 1918, when the Blofield Deanery Magazine reported: “Mrs Browne has now been officially informed that her husband, who has been missing for a year, was killed in action”. She later remarried.
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