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First Name: Richard Last Name: BROWN
Date of Death: 26/06/1916 Lived/Born In: Wimbledon
Rank: Pioneer Unit: Royal Engineers 1st Battalion Special Brigade
Memorial Site: Wimbledon, St Mary

Current Information:

Age-18

12, Tabor Grove, Wimbledon

Beauval Communal Cemetery, Somme

 

The Special Companies of the Royal Engineers were an invention of the First World War and were established to develop and use the new weapon of gas. The first Special Companies came into operation in September, 1915, and were a response to the use of gas by the Germans at Ypres in April of that year. As the war continued, the use of gas by both sides grew enormously and the Special Companies were grouped together into Special Battalions and finally a Special Brigade was established to oversee to whole operation. At first the main way of delivering gas was from cylinders but as the war progressed, gas shells, fired from 4 inch mortars became more common. However at the time of the Battle of the Somme it was gas from cylinders that was used by the British Army. The gas used was a mixture of chlorine and phosgene called ‘White Star’. The Special Companies also took charge of flame throwers when they arrived in France in June 1916.

Between 24th June and 27th June, the 1st Company of the Special Brigade were involved in discharging gas on the Somme, along the fronts held by 4th, 29th and 32nd Divisions, in preparation for the beginning of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July. But things did not go completely to plan. The wind was not always favourable and the gas lingered causing a number of casualties from gas poisoning among the personnel of 1st Company of the Special Brigade. The Brigade Diary does not go into any detail but it is likely that they were also targeted by the German artillery, which would have added to their casualty list. Richard Brown was one of these casualties.

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