Soldier and Cape Barren Islander
Marcus Blake Norman Brown was born in 1895 on Cape Barren Island to Henry William and Mary Olive Brown (nee Everett). He was a great grandson of Woreternemerunnertatteyane and Thomas Beeton.
In 1916 Marcus left Cape Barren Island, and travelled to the Claremont army camp to enlist in the First AIF. Travelling with him were his brothers Henry William [Harry] and Willard also intending to enlist. Harry joined the 12th Battalion and in August 1916 transferred to the 52nd Battalion. He fought at the Battle of the Somme where he was wounded in action and suffered reported shellshock. After spending time in a London hospital, he returned to Australia in May 1917. Willard was initially accepted in the AIF but was discharged when it was found that he was underage – claiming to be eighteen years old when in fact he was sixteen.
Marcus was a 20 year old labourer who enlisted on the 27th of June 1916, passed as medically fit, and allotted to the 4th reinforcements for Tasmania’s own 40th Battalion, sailing on the HMAT Port Melbourne. In May 1917, Marcus was one of the 105 fresh recruits of the 40th stationed in the field, near Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium. They were given ‘a cheerful introduction to the trenches’ - as a reply to the enemy activity of the previous day, a very special shoot had been arranged for 8 pm in which every gun on the corps front was to be let loose for 15 minutes.’ The noise must have been deafening to say the least. Brown though, must have either been enthralled by this display of technological might or wished that he was once more enjoying the peace and quiet of Cape Barren Island.
Leading up to what would be the battalions baptism of fire at the Battle of Messines, the soldiers were involved in constructing gun emplacements, dug outs and assembly trenches as well as creating ammunition dumps and burying cables seven feet deep. All this was carried out while the men were subjected to heavy shelling which resulted in a number of casualties. Finally in the early hours of the 7th of June, the time arrived for the men of the 40th Battalion to ‘hop over the bags’ in artillery formation. Arriving at the rendezvous the men spread out as much as possible taking cover in the numerous shell holes that littered the area. Moving forward the men were soon greeted by machine guns. According to history of the 40th Battalion, the ‘trenches shook and rocked like a ship in a heavy sea, and in some places fell in, and at the same moment a mass of earth thrown hundreds of feet high, was seen in front against the sky, like a black column capped with a dull red flame.’
While the Battle of Messines was an important allied victory, the detonation was said to be the deadliest non-nuclear man-made explosion, with 10,000 lives lost. The battle claimed 317 casualties from the 40th Battalion alone. Among them was Private Marcus Brown.
At just what point in the battle Private Marcus Brown was wounded, receiving a gunshot wound to his left thigh and wrist is not recorded. Taken to a regimental aid post his wounds were assessed and possibly given some basic medical treatment before being taken by the 9th Field Ambulance to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station. From there he was transferred to the 11th Stationary Hospital, Rouen. Here he succumbed to his wounds three days later at 5.15pm on 11 June 1917. Brown was later buried at St Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen.
His friend and fellow Islander John Fisher survived the battle at Messines only to be wounded in action in October 1917. He too succumbed to his wounds and died on 13 October 1917 and was later buried at Potijze Chateau Ground Cemetery, Belgium.
With thanks to Andrea Gerrard.