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King Alfred Public House: 26 Lisson Grove, Marylebone, London

From London to Far East POW

My father, Dan Brown, was born 31st October, 1922, the second son of Robert "Bob" John Brown and Agnes "Aggie" Minnie Lucy née Vousden. His older brother Robert Vousden died in infancy and Leslie John and Betty Agnes followed in 1925 and 1926.

Dan, Les and Betty were all born in the King Alfred public house, Lisson Grove, Marylebone, London. The licensee was my grandfather Bob Brown, but the pub was another in the long line of Vousden public houses.

Bob and Aggie were kept very busy running the pub and the children did not see a lot of their parents, all the more so because they were under strict orders not to enter the bar areas. In time, one of the barmaids, Emily 'Emmie' Dabbs, became a nanny to the children, and as the children grew up so did their friendship with Emmie, and they started to call her "Sis" (sister).

The Wheatsheaf Northdown, Margate, Kent

In 1928 Bob and Aggie moved from the King Alfred to The Wellington at 196 Goswell Road, whereupon the children began to attend Compton Street School, Finsbury. I have many of their school Reports, in which their attendance, conduct and progress are recorded. Clearly, they settled in well to this London County Council school, but after a few years the Browns left London for Kent, where they took on The Wheatsheaf in Northdown. My father was particularly pleased at this move, taking a liking to the quieter, almost rural, life. The children transferred to Garlinge Council School and they all joined the scouts and brownies, the start of a lifetime interest for my dad.

Emily 'Emmie' Dabbs

Alas, one morning my grandad was cycling to Margate to deposit the previous day's takings in the bank when he was attacked and the money was stolen. He was badly shaken by this experience, and they decided to end their days in the pub trade and move, yet again, to the Isle of Sheppey. The three children and "Sis" made the journey by boat along the coast from Margate to Sheerness, where they lived above their new venture, a café in the High Street.

This was in about 1935, and my dad went to Technical School in Marine Parade, where he enjoyed developing his technical and drawing skills although he never much liked having to move from Northdown. I do not know why the Browns chose to live in Sheerness but it would have been familiar to them as the nearest seaside town to East London, where they were both born and brought up, and the large naval docks would have been a special attraction to my grandad

When Bob and Aggie married in 1918, grandad was still serving in the Royal Navy on HMS Maidstone, a submarine depot ship of the 8th Submarine Flotilla based in Harwich 1914-1918, moving to Chatham in 1918. He had joined the Navy in 1902, rising from "Boy 2nd Class" to Petty Officer. He was discharged in 1922, briefly mobilised in 1938, re-engaged in 1939 and finally discharged in 1945.

Leslie (left), Daniel (seated) and their father Robert John Brown: July 1941

On the outbreak of war, Dan wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and join the Royal Navy, as did his brother Les, but neither succeeded. Les had been at Naval School since the age of about 10 and was all set to pursue his chosen career, only to stumble at the last hurdle when an eye test showed him to be colour blind. He spent the war years working in Sheerness Naval Docks. Similarly, it was poor eye sight that prevented Dan from joining the Navy, and so he turned to the RAF, which he entered as a flight mechanic (aircraftman).

On 2nd January 1941 Dan reported to No. 2 Reception Centre, at RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire. Here he was issued with his equipment, uniform and his Form 1250 (Identity Card) on which a convict-like photo of his face appeared with a plaque beneath it on which was written his Service Number 1213899, the last 3 digits of which would become his Pay Code.

The basic training, or "Square-bashing" lasted 7-8 weeks, after which he was re-mustered into a trade, in his case it was as a Fitter on equipment and aircraft; his trade on entry into the RAF was a Fitters Mate, so this was appropriate. On 14th March 1941 he was posted to No. 1 Wing of 9 School of Technical training, which was located at Morecombe, Lancashire, one of several schools training Flight Mechanics and Flight Riggers, the former dealing with the mechanical side and the latter the Air-Frames of the aircraft.

Daniel Brown: Aircraftman 2, No. 1213899

This trade training lasted until 26th September, when he was off to his first station posting at No. 57 OTU (Operational Training Unit), located at Hawarden, near Chester. It was a training unit for fighter and fighter-reconaissance pilots, equipped with Spitfires, Hurricanes and Miles Master aircraft. The station had opened in the mid-1930s as a production plant for Wellington bomber aircraft and then spent the majority of the War as an OTU for both RAF and Fleet Air Arm air crews.

Aircraftman AC2 Brown was posted to No. 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron, equipped with Hurricanes, on 4th December 1941. The Squadron aircraft had already been loaded on the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable, bound for Malta and the Middle East but, with the prospect of war with Japan looming on the horizon, their destination was changed, whilst in transit, to Singapore.

HMT Andes
HMT Andes: Constructed at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, Andes was launched as a passenger liner 6 months before the outbreak of World War Two. She was immediately requisitioned as a troop carrier and spent the war on active duty.

Meanwhile, Dan moved from Hawarden to a camp at West Kirby on the River Dee side of the Wirral, a transit camp for personnel awaiting a berth on a ship, outward bound from Liverpool Docks, which were some 30 minutes away by rail. Before dawn on the cold, wet morning of 4th December he left West Kirby and went to the docks at Liverpool to embark on HMT Andes, a pre-war cruise liner requisitioned for war service. The Squadron aircraft had already left on the aircraft carrier Indomitable. The convoy of ships joined another convoy that had left Greenock in Scotland days before.

The Squadron was bound for Malta and having reached Gibraltar some of the Hurricanes had flown on to Malta. Some were recalled and took off from the island to land on the Aircraft Carrier Ark Royal for the return to Gibraltar, but a German U-boat topedoed the carrier, and all these aircraft were lost. Not a good start to the mission!

The back-up, on the Andes, together with some aircraft on the Indomitable, having crossed the Atlantic almost to Newfoundland, proceeded on around Africa and headed across the Indian Ocean towards Singapore. However, the Japanese advance through Malaya was so rapid that a change of plan was made during the week of arriving at Seletar on Singapore Island, to locate 605 Squadron, at least, on the island of Sumatra, at Palembang. They fought a rearguard action here, but events forced a further move to Java. The Squadron eventually arrived at Tjilitan south of Batavia, the capital.

Here the situation was extremely confused with a considerable amount of records and, later, equipment being destroyed in the face of the Japanese landing on Java, not to mention the lack of aircraft due to the events described above. Retreats south-west to Andir and Tasik Majala were made, where the whole Squadron was captured and held as prisoners of war.

Heavy Going for the Convoy 4 days out into the Atlantic: by Fred Goodwin

My father tells the story in his diary notebooks, which he gave me before he died in 1990. He spoke very little about his time in the Far East, so most of what I know of his personal experiences are as he wrote them in the notebooks. However, I have researched the events for myself and in the process I have become familiar with other published and unpublished material covering the same ground, including some by people who were with and knew my father through the bleak times. For example, many of Fred Goodwin's drawings could easily be pictures of my father's words, drawn by Fred as Dan wrote in his notebooks.

John Fletcher-Cooke too must have been standing very close by my dad in some of the passages in his The Emperor's Guest, and the same is true for Terence Kelly's FEPOW, the Story of a Voyage Beyond Belief and his Hurricane and Spitfire Poliots at War, Martyn C. Lovejoy's Those Lost Four Years (unpublished manuscript), Alan Carter's Survival of the Fittest, the Java 42 Club's Prisoners in Java and Eric Cooper's Tomorrow You Die. All are recommended reading.

Eric Cooper and I corresponded some years ago, as I have done with Alan Carter's son and others too, and their widows and sons and daughters. One man who was definitely by my father's side throughout was Aircraftman Fred Pugh, more of whom on another page.

Finally, in July 1997 I visited Japan with my daughter and we made the journey to Hakodate and the site of the POW Camp where my father was incarcerated. And in 2005 my wife and I spent time in Canada and the United States where in Tacoma near Seattle I tracked down and met the son-in-law of the family who had been so kind to him in December 1945 on his way home from the War in the Far East.