John James Hedley Brown was the oldest of six brothers who grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland. He was the older brother of my great-grandfather Michael. Their father Joseph had been a soldier before becoming a carpet-seller, and so far I’ve discovered 5 of the 6 brothers also served in the Army.
Hedley’s preferred name was his mother’s maiden name – Alice Hedley was English but had grown up in Scotland. But hers is a different story.
The 1891 census finds Hedley working as a clerk – woollen [manufacturer?] However in 1892, aged 18 years and 9 months, he attested as a Private in the 3rd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. He was 5′ 9″ weighing almost 9st, of fresh complexion with blue eyes and dark brown hair.
I’ve come across a significant number of events in Hedley’s life from exploring the military records.
In 1893 he joined the Royal Engineers, by then he had a scar on his right eyebrow and his right forearm. In 1895 Hedley was stationed down in Portsmouth. One day when off duty, he and another soldier were setting up some goalposts, when out of a silent sky flew a golf ball, hitting him on the head behind his left ear and knocking him to the ground. He felt groggy but carried on, but quarter of an hour later he returned to the barracks and was carried to the hospital. There was an enquiry – no-one had been heard to shout a warning when teeing off. The golfer had offered compensation immediately after Hedley had been struck but Hedley turned it down, but the golfer then promised to cover the costs of his engineer pay lost while Hedley was in hospital. The medical notes say that it “will not in all probability affect his future efficiency as a soldier” Fortunately this proved to be the case.
In March 1900 he was promoted to Corporal, promoted to Serjeant in December 1900, became Mecht Staff Serjeant in August 1901. In March 1904 he was re-engaged to complete 21 years service. In January 1905 he reverted at his own request to Sergt; in December 1905 he was promoted again to QMSjt [Quartermaster Serjeant]. In July 1908 he became QMSgt (Instructor) and promoted again to Sergt Major in August 1911. In 1912 he was transferred and appointed Sgt Maj (Instructor).
An extract from [Boer War] Army Orders from Pretoria, South Africa, dated 16 July 1901 was also included in Hedley’s file:
The G.O.C-in-C has been pleased to sanction the promotion of the under-mentioned NCOs and men for distinguished gallantry in the field.
13 December 1900. Seach Light Section, R.E. to the Serjeant.
On 13th Decr 1900, proceeded alone, though the Boers held all the intermediate country strongly, to repair the telegraph line from Rietfontein and Rustenburg, and got it through. Also for conspicuous courage in blowing up a mill under heavy fire.
The report of the gallantry of these N/C/Os has been received with much satisfaction and has been duly noted. A Corps Order is enclosed herewith confirming these promotions.
This then had earned Hedley the promotion from which he later reverted; he was 26 and maybe didn’t feel ready.
The military records also mention that in 1902 he’d married Florence Roberts in Leeds, his brother Michael was witness at their wedding, and that together they had 3 children: Florence Mary, William Hedley and Eric.
I found another mention of of Hedley in the British Newspaper Archive. In November 1933 there was a public appeal for a new hospital in Leeds, Hedley had made a contribution which was specified in the Yorkshire Post.
Hedley died in the spring of 1953.
© Text and photo copyright Lynne Black 23 November 2014
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/j-j-hedley-brown/