Lieut. Hugh Eric Walter Gordon-Brown (1912 – 1943)

Lieut. Hugh Eric Walter Gordon-Brown MC was born in Kensington during 1912 and the only son of Gavin Gordon-Brown, a rubber planter from Scotland, and an Australian named Werna Mary Brown. In the 1930’s Gavin and Werna (also known as ‘Queenie’) lived in Wrotham Hill Park and by the early 1940’s had moved to ‘Oak Beams’ in St. Mary’s Platt.

In April 1942 Hugh was awarded the Military Cross for a number of actions occurring between April and October 1941 whilst he was serving with the 1st Btn. Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in North Africa. His commanding officer wrote that Hugh ‘consistently showed disregard for his personal safety in carrying out reconnaissance’s in close contact with the enemy’.

It was recorded that on one occasion he was able to obtain valuable information that led to the destruction of enemy posts by remaining in an exposed position for several days under constant mortar and machine gun fire. On 25 June 1941 whilst in a forward position, Hugh crawled out under heavy fire to attend to several of his men who had been wounded, and despite being wounded himself, managed to get them back to safety.

In 1944 Hugh was posthumously recommended for the Bar to the Military Cross for deeds performed whilst attached to the 2nd Cheshire Regiment. The circumstances were as follows:

On 29 June 1942 Hugh was wounded at the Battle of Mersa Matruh and subsequently captured between Fuka and Daba. He was sent to the hospital at Mersa Matruh, which was taken by Axis forces the previous day, but two weeks later had hidden in a ‘native’ latrine whilst the Germans evacuated their British prisoners to a more secure location (the Battle of El Alamein was in full-flow.) Discovering that he was the only man left in the hospital, Hugh made his escape and spent several days wandering in the desert looking for the British before having the bad luck of being picked up by an enemy patrol. Refusing to give his word that he would not try and escape again the Germans washed their hands of Hugh, and handed him over to the Italians who eventually took him to a POW camp in Veano, Italy, where he remained until 29 October 1942 – at which point he was transferred to another camp at Chieti.

At the new camp Hugh became head of a tunneling scheme, and after the Germans had taken over from the Italians, he hid in the tunnel with fourteen other officers, and escaped when it was safe to do so. Heading on foot in a southerly direction, the officers eventually crossed over into British lines on 21 October 1943, and from there were sent to Cairo in order that they could be flown home.

On 5 November Hugh was a passenger on board a flying boat (G-AGIB) that left Egypt bound for the UK with some of the other escapees. The first stage of the journey was to cross the Libyan desert 100 miles south of Tobruk towards Jerba Island (off the coast of Tunisia) where the plane was due to refuel. Radio signals from the aircraft ceased around 22:45 hrs, and around this time, a flying boat travelling in the opposite direction reported a large explosion on the ground. A search was conducted the following day, and the remains of the plane and its passengers were found in a remote part of the Libyan desert, 75 miles SSW of Sollum.

A subsequent investigation into the crash reported that a fire had broken out behind the starboard outer engine and the captain had probably put the plane into a steep dive (descending at a rate of 2000 ft per minute) to extinguish the flames. The burning engine blew off and the fire spread further, thus rendering the plane unable to recover from the dive, and it plunged into the desert.

At first Hugh was buried at the crash site, however later he was re-interred at the Halfaya Sollum War Graves Cemetery on 17 March 1944.

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