From Oamaru to the Somme

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A family reunion to be held in Oamaru will commemorate one of North Otago’s favourite sons.
The family of Victoria Cross recipient Sergeant Donald Forrester Brown will hold its reunion this weekend and the event will feature a display of the Brown family’s history at the North Otago Museum.
Bob Brown, the great-nephew of the Waitaki Boys’ High School-educated war hero, said the family offered the museum the chance to display Sgt Brown’s Victoria Cross, which he earned on the battlefields of France in 1916.
Medals earned by other family members will also be on display to the public on April 23 and 24 from 1pm to 4.30pm.
North Otago Museum director Jane Macknight said it was a privilege to have the medal displayed in Oamaru.
“Brown is one of only 21 New Zealanders awarded this medal. The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy to members of the armed forces of Commonwealth countries.
“The Brown VC is still held by members of the Brown family and it’s an incredible honour for Oamaru to be able to have it on display over the Anzac weekend, and when they offered it to us for display, we jumped at the opportunity.”Mr Brown said while it was exciting to be bringing Sgt Brown’s VC to Oamaru, it would mean more to him have the family together for the weekend.
“What’s exciting for me is to have the family members there. That’s what it’s all about _ bringing the family together. Donald was part of that family.”As well as the family medals, Bibles and heirlooms from the family business, the Polytechnic, would also be displayed, alongside photographs and books written by family members, Mr Brown said.
Information provided by North Otago Museum curator Chloe Searle showed Donald Forrester Brown was born in Dunedin on February 23, 1890.
He moved to Oamaru with his family in the mid-1890s, attending Oamaru South School and then Waitaki Boys’ High School. His father established a drapery and department store, which would become known as the Polytechnic.
When he enlisted for war service with the North Otago Company, second battalion, he sold his Totara farm. He then trained at Trentham, near Wellington, and was posted to Egypt, where he arrived in January 1916.
In April 1916, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and was eventually sent to fight in France. He was posted to the area surrounding the River Somme, where he would earn his Victoria Cross.
In September 1916, he assisted Sgt Jesse Rodgers, of Oamaru, in disabling a machine gun by rushing it and immobilising its crew while under heavy fire.
On October 1, again under heavy fire, Sgt Brown single-handedly rushed a machine gun, killed its crew and taking the gun.
Sadly, he was killed by a sniper 30 minutes later.
On June 12, 1917, his father, Robert, received news that Sgt Brown had been posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery and determination in attack”.
On August 30, he was presented with his son’s Victoria Cross at a large military ceremony.
Sgt Brown is the only North Otago serviceman to have received the Victoria Cross.
In 1918, a decision was made by the Oamaru Beautifying Society to plant oak trees in memory of those killed in World War I.
Sgt Brown’s tree, at the junction of Towey, Wansbeck and Severn St, was the first planted.
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