Remembering Oliver Brooke, Henry Williamson & William Newby

Posted on: 1, September, 2019
Oliver Brooke, Henry Williamson, William Newby

Every day on the British Army Ancestors Facebook page I take time to commemorate a British soldier. This post will look at three of the men I have remembered recently; from left to right: Oliver Brooke, Henry Williamson and William Newby.

Oliver Brooke

Adverts for Phosferine ran in various publications during and after the First World War and this particular advert featured Staff Quarter Master Sergeant Oliver Brooke of the Army Service Corps, who had been overseas since January 1915. Choosing his words carefully, Sergeant Brooke (allegedly) stated:

“[Phosferine] is as important as the toothbrush… I believe in every instance the result has been entirely favourable to such of my comrades who have been suffering from complaints which Phosferine claims to cure.”

The manufacturers continue, “Thanks to Phosferine [Sgt Brooke] still has ample vigour and vitality to withstand the utmost severities of the campaign – Phosferine generated the extra nerve force to overcome the bodily discomforts, the brain-fatigue experienced under shell-fire – in effect, Phosferine made the nervous system rise far beyond its former capacity.” Oliver Brooke survived the war.

Henry Williamson

Henry Williamson’s ‘The Wet Flanders Plain’ was an early ‘want’ for me when I was compiling my First World War reading list in the early 1980s. It was difficult to get hold of then, and for some reason I remember that a copy did come up for £29, which seemed to be a lot of money in 1981 and which, on a student’s budget I couldn’t afford at the time. Nevertheless, the book remained on my list and many years later I did buy an early edition which I still have and which, re-reading again now, prompts me to upload this painting of Henry Williamson by Charles Tunnicliffe.

As a boy, I have to say that I struggled with ‘Tarka The Otter’, but The Wet Flanders Plain is wonderful; a nostalgic and reflective look back at the battlefields of France (and mainly) Belgium as Henry and his anonymous former Tank Regiment officer friend ‘four-toes’ re-trace their footsteps on the battlefields ten years later. My copy of the book is inscribed “To H J H” and continues, “In memory of our visit to Battlefields 1938, 20 years after our first visit.” It is signed, “Percy, Xmas 1939”.

I can understand why the book would have had appeal to veterans and Henry Williamson’s prose is beautiful and touching. This single extract will suffice as a example:

“Little trees grow in the gaps between the scarred forefathers of the wayside, as thick as a man’s wrist, and their roots push into the darkness of old unnamed horse-graves. The fields are beautiful with wind-stroked corn; and in the greener fields, families of peasants on hands and knees crawl in line, picking out the weeds from among the ruffled flax. Larks sing in the sky, as they have sung during all the years, and now we may share their joyous song of freedom. Their nests are in the tussocks of meadow grass, in the slight hollows that make most of the visible ground uneven and undulating, where once shells fell, and men among them.”

Henry Williamson first served overseas as a rifleman with the 5th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) and he was present with the battalion during the Christmas 1914 truce. Returned to the UK in January 1915 with trench foot and dysentry, he was later commissioned in the Bedfordshire Regiment. There is a lot of information about Henry Williamson online and if you only choose to read one of his books, do read ‘The Wet Flanders Plain’ which is slender and perfectly formed and, these days, also easily available.

William Newby

The photo of William Nicholson Newby is undated and was probably taken before he joined the army. During the First World War he served as a sapper (141789) with the Royal Engineers and died of wounds at No 36 Casualty Clearing Station on the 15th October 1918 whilst serving with 121 Field Company, RE. He left behind a widow, Mary Ellen Newby who, later re-marrying and as Mrs Mary Sharp, paid for the words AT REST to be inscribed on her late husband’s headstone. William is buried in Duhallow ADS [Advanced Dressing Station] Cemetery in Flanders. He is in good company. The cemetery contains 1372 burials from the First World War.

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