PERCY EDWARD ARTHUR BROGDEN


Percy Brogden was a descendent of the earliest recorded Brogden, George of Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

PERCY EDWARD ARTHUR BROGDEN

1899 - 1918

Percy, the eldest son of Joseph Arthur and Charlotte Isabella Brogden of Thames Street, Oxford, was born on 9 June 1899. On leaving school, he joined the Oxford firm of printers and publishers, AR Mowbray & Co Ltd. He was employed in their New Inn Yard works, off St Aldate's, Oxford, not far from where the family lived. They had another works at 35 Pembroke Street and shops in Oxford and London.

According to Mowbray's letter heading, they printed church literature, parish magazines, a year book, Christmas and Easter cards, various forms and registers. almanacs and calendars and religious pictures.

Perhaps these printing tasks are what Percy refers to in his diary for 1917. On each workday he writes quantities such as "Sign. 7100B" and "4600W" or "Job B. 11000." Occasionally the entry says "No work." He records the daily weather, visits to the Queen Street and the George Street cinemas, visits to his grandparents (in Jericho), work on the family allotment, bathing (perhaps in the river Thames at Long Bridges) and occasional walks to "town." He also refers to letters from various friends and soldiers, from Ethel (whose photo is named in his possessions) and, more frequently, from Will Allman and from Nell Addison. At one stage, Nell "chucks him over" but later apologises and takes up the letter writing again. He records on March 17 that she sent him a photo of herself when she was 14 and that she was 18 on 20 March. On 4 July she wrote to say that her 20 year old brother was dead, no doubt in the war which had been raging since 1914. At the back of the diary her address is given as 17 Hill Street, Jarrow, Tyne but an undated letter to Percy's mother gives a Tunbridge Wells address and is from Private Nellie Addison, of the WAAC (Women's Auxiliary Army Corps): "We are billeted in a private house. It's lovely cooking for the Tommies… they are all under canvas … the soldiers are so very kind to us. I am sorry to say I never heard anything more of my ring. I have had another letter from Percy…I always feel better after I have had a letter … it makes you feel as if you are not quite forgotten." No doubt this letter was written when Percy was in the army. Nellie also mentioned that she got all her washing done for a few pence, unlike Percy's mother, Lottie, for whom she sympathised for having to take in washing to earn a little extra as her husband Joseph's ill health had forced him to retire from the Oxford city police in 1913 after 20 years' service.

Percy's calling up papers had arrived on 10 June, the day after his 18th birthday. On 21 June, he went for a medical check-up and "passed A1." On 5 July he left work and on 9 July he wrote, "Join the army. Up to Cowley Barracks." He had joined the 2/8th Worcester Regiment. From then on, the diary records route marches and training, some at a base near Swindon where he was able to get a photograph taken and visit the cinema. On 6 December he writes, "Made a Lance Corporal." This promotion is the subject of a congratulatory letter from Will ("What on earth did you do to get that?") and the photograph that his mother kept on the wall of her front room was of him wearing one stripe. His war grave headstone and communications from the army record him as a private, however. Percy was still in the UK by the time the 1917 diary was completed.

Percy's bloodstained and damaged 1917 diary was amongst the effects returned to his parents in a striped cloth drawstring bag, after his death in June 1918. There is no surviving 1918 diary and we don't know when in 1919 his unit went to France but like so many young men of his generation, he served and survived for much less than a year. He wrote from the trenches on 26 May: "You get a lot of clean washing when you come out of the trenches for a few days rest … they think it will all be over by this summer … fancy Stanley [brother, born 1904] in long trousers at last … I bet he does look a Dick …I suppose he will be pinching my suit… I remember last Whit Monday I went bluebelling with Aunt Annie [his mother's sister] … I'll be there next year alright." But two days later he was wounded.

The family learned of Percy's injury on 28 May by a telegram sent on 31 May: "dangerously wounded - gunshot wound - chest." Postcards and letters from his padre, E. Ellis Williams, and the matron (whose signature can't be read), kept his family informed about his progress. The kindness of these correspondents is remarkable - there must have been many such messages to be written every day. He seemed to be getting better and managed to write home in a spidery hand on 10 June, concluding "Remember me to Stan, Midge, Ron, Les, Mrs Moore and Gran and Gramp …", but on 16 June, only a week after his 19th birthday and two days after being moved to 30 General Hospital, BEF, he died.

Percy Brogden was buried at Les Baraques military cemetery at Sangatte, near Calais, where there were several military hospitals. His parents were sent photographs, first of the temporary wooden crosses in the sandy graveyard, then of the headstone. His sister Marjorie and her husband Reg, along with his younger brother Les's son, Michael, and his elder son, Iain, visited the cemetery on 16 and 17 April 2002 and found Percy's headstone which stands today in a meticulously well-kept grassy cemetery with flower beds, a memorial and a roll of honour.

Percy's parents received various communications after Percy's death. His mother must have written to the matron to ask if he had left any dying message. She replied that he had not but added her deepest sympathy. There were letters of commiseration from relatives, friends and Percy's employer. The War Graves Commission apologised that it was taking so long to send photographs of the grave. The King's message included "He whose loss you mourn died in the noblest of causes. His Country will be ever grateful to him for the sacrifice he has made for Freedom and Justice." The Regimental Paymaster wrote to say that the "Separation allowance and allotment of pay now being issued to you will continue for 26 weeks." His mother's handwritten calculations on the back of this letter indicate payments totalling £6 4s ½d. The War Office wrote on 21 October 1918 with notification of a payment of £5 13s 6d, made up of Gratuity: £2 0s 0d; Balance of pay: £2 11s 10d; Cash: £1 1s 8d and added "There is no such grant as 'blood money'." What prompted that note?

These few details of Percy's short life were compiled from the letters and diary which Percy's mother kept in his draw-string bag, along with his army tags. Several photographs have survived, including the one of him in his lance-corporal's stripe that used to hang on her wall. None of Nellie's letters to Percy were in the bag - perhaps his mother sent them to her after his death. What was the significance of the ring that Nellie mentioned in her letter to Percy's mother?

When Percy's father retired from the police force, he had taken a job as a porter at Somerville College, Oxford and during the war he became a medical orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps which was using the Oxford Examination Schools, in Oxford High Street, as a hospital. He died in 1921 and, as a medical orderly, the army recognised his service in a commemoration with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, a total of 47 Brogdens from the UK, plus one from Australia and one from Canada, died in the first world war. Several of these were from the same Oxfordshire roots as Percy [see Brogden family tree] and are recorded on memorials and gravestones in Cumnor, Buckland and Commonwealth war graves elsewhere. In Buckland, John and Susan Brogden's five sons served in the war and three did not return. Whilst Percy was serving in France, his uncle Harry Hamilton was with an Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire regiment in Germany. In a card to his sister Lottie, Percy's mother, from a prisoner of war camp, dated 5 May 1918, he tells her that he had been wounded ("in the thigh … went through") and taken prisoner on 25 March. Harry survived the wound and the war and returned to work with his father's building business, but died suddenly soon after his return.

Mike Brogden

21 May 2002


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