Case study

WW1 New Zealand VC recipient Donald Forrester Brown

The story of New Zealand First World War Victoria Cross recipient Donald Forrester Brown.

Donald Forrester Brown
Credit: © IWM (detail of Q 80480)

16 men from New Zealand received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed in the grounds of the New Zealand Parliament, Wellington. This archive tells their stories.

Name: Donald Forrester Brown

DOB: 23 February 1890

Place of Birth: Dunedin, New Zealand

Date of Action: 15 September 1916

Place of Action: High Wood, Flers, France

Rank: Sergeant

Regiment: 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force

Donald Forrester Wood was the first member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on the Western Front to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He was born on 23 February 1890 in Dunedin, New Zealand, where he worked as a farmer before enlisting in October 1915. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment which was sent to France in 1916.

Sergeant Brown was awarded his Victoria Cross posthumously for most conspicuous bravery and determination in attack on 15 September 1916, at Flers-Courcelette, during the Battle of the Somme. It was the first day of the battle, and Brown’s unit had been tasked with capturing a series of German held trenches from their position south-east of High Wood. Whilst the first trench was captured with ease, his company came under intense machine-gun fire and suffered heavy casualties advancing to the next trench. His citation explains further:

At great personal risk this N.C.O. advanced with a comrade and succeeded in reaching a point within 30 yards of the enemy guns. Four of the gun crew were killed and the gun captured. The advance of the company was continued until it was again held up by machine gun fire. Again Sergeant Brown and his comrade, with great gallantry, rushed the gun and killed the crew. After this second position had been won, the company came under very heavy shell fire, and the utter contempt for danger and coolness under fire of this N.C.O. did much to keep up the spirit of his men. On a subsequent occasion in attack, Sjt Brown showed most conspicuous gallantry. He attacked single-handedly a machine gun which was holding up the attack, killed the gun crew and captured the gun. Later, whilst sniping the retreating enemy, this very gallant soldier was killed.

Sergeant Brown was killed in action on 1 October 1916 during another attack on the Somme. He is buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery in France.

Published 20 June 2016