Two local men lost their lives on 21st July 1916 – 23-year-old Private Dick Neale, 14th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and 19-year-old Second Lieutenant Rowland Murray Wilson-Browne, 12th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, who was an old boy of Solihull School.
Dick Neale was born in Claverdon on 24th May 1893, the fourth of six children (three boys, three girls) born to parents William (a cowman on a farm) and Rebecca (née Sharman) who had married in 1886. Between 1901 and 1911, the family moved to Preston Bagot, near Henley-in-Arden.
Dick was working as a farm labourer by April 1911 when he was aged 17. He then worked for the Great Western Railway (GWR) at Tyseley Station from 14th November 1911 until he resigned on 19th January 1915 in order to join the Army. Unpublished research by the late Alan Tucker gives his address on enlistment as 56 Priestly Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham. His medal index card notes that he first served overseas on 21st November 1915. He died of wounds on 21st July 1916 according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, although the Register of Soldiers’ Effects notes his death as 21st/22nd July.
He is buried at Mericourt-Labbé Communal Cemetery in France, and is also commemorated on local war memorials in Knowle, as well as on the Birmingham Roll of Honour. His parents had moved to Priory Cottages, Kingswood, Hockley Heath by the early 1920s.
Rowland Murray Wilson-Browne (known as Murray) was born in 1897 in Sutton Coldfield to parents Arthur Edward (manager of a tinware works) and his wife Camilla Muriel (née Adcock) who had married at St Mark’s Church, Birmingham in 1896. He was the eldest of their five children (three boys, two girls) and, in 1907, became a boarder at Solihull School, entering School House in Form 2. John Loynton’s book Solihull School during the First World War notes that his father was also an Old Sil, having left the school in 1882. In 1909 Murray won a prize for French, and he was a keen member of the Officers’ Training Corps, playing bugle in the band. He also played school cricket. In 1911, he won the obstacle race and the sack race on School Sports Day. He left school in 1912.
The airwar19141918 website reports that Rowland Murray Wilson-Browne was amongst the first batch of pilots who arrived for training at The Curragh, Ireland on 14th December 1915.
He was initially posted as missing, and a report appeared in the Birmingham Daily Post on 26th July 1916:
SEC. LIEUT R. M. WILSON-BROWNE (MISSING)
Mr and Mrs A. E. Wilson-Browne, of The Crag, Sutton Coldfield, have been notified that their son, Second Lieutenant Roland Murray Wilson-Browne, Royal Flying Corps, is reported missing. Second Lieutenant Wilson-Browne, who is nineteen years of age and obtained his “wings” at the beginning of last May, was educated at Solihull Grammar School, and King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and distinguished himself at the latter place by winning the gymnastic championship in three successive years. A brother officer, in a letter to Second Lieutenant Wilson-Browne’s parents, states that he went up on a bombing raid on July 21 and did not return, but when last seen was descending with his machine under control. It is therefore assumed that he has been taken prisoner.
A follow-up report on 17th October 1916 reported Second Lieutenant Wilson-Browne’s death as a prisoner of war in German hands. The article gave the additional information that he joined the Army shortly after the outbreak of war and gained his commission on 13th December 1915. On two previous occasions his aircraft had been brought down behind enemy lines but he had managed to avoid capture. On this third time, he wasn’t so lucky. A photograph of his downed plane survives, with German service personnel posing with it in a very similar way as British servicemen posed with a crashed German plane in Earlswood in the Second World War.
Murray is buried at Vis-en-Artois cemetery in France, and is also commemorated on memorials at Solihull School and King Edward’s School, Birmingham, as well as at Sutton Coldfield and at St Peter’s Church, Maney. He is also believed to have been included on the Roll of Honour of Sutton Coldfield Cricket Club, sadly destroyed by vandalism.
If you have any further information about these men or their families, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977