A Forgotten Hero from Belsen Prison Camp

One of the plaques on Darlaston War Memorial lists the names of the Darlastonians who died in the Second World War. It includes the 93 people who died in the armed forces, and 12 civilians who died locally. Some of their stories would be terrible indeed. It's hard to image their bravery, suffering and pain.

The story of one man, Fred Brown, is outstanding. He was a brave man, who died as a result of his time in a German prison camp. He returned to Darlaston with a fatal illness, and died three months later. His name is not included on the War Memorial.

Fred Spellman Brown was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Brown who lived at 46 Heathfield Lane, Darlaston. He was educated at Old Church School and played for the old boys' football team. On leaving school he worked at Garringtons, and stayed there until he was 23 years old.

He joined the Royal Artillery and served for seven years in India, then went to France at the outbreak of war. After evacuation from Dunkirk he served in Iraq, and parts of Asia. Fred was one of the first men chosen to join the newly formed Eighth Army, in which he served as a gunner.

Fred Brown.

At the beginning of the war, Libya was an Italian colony, and the strategically important city of Tobruk became the site of a number of battles between the Allies and Rommel's Panzer Army. Fred went to Tripoli with the Eighth Army, but on 30th May 1942 was taken prisoner by the German Army, near Tobruk, and handed over to the Italians. When Italy surrendered, he was given back to the Germans and ended-up in the dreaded Belsen prison camp.

He endured terrible conditions at Belsen, where he was inoculated with tuberculosis, which eventually took his life. In the camp he was forced to work on the railways, manhandling heavy sleepers, whilst a sick man, suffering from the terrible effects of TB. Before his imprisonment he was a healthy man weighing 14 stone 4 pounds, but due to his illness and the terrible conditions at Belsen, his weight fell to just 6 stone 6 pounds.

He was repatriated on 1st February, 1945, and discharged from the army in June of that year, as a sick and dying man. He returned to Darlaston, but refused to talk to his family about his ordeal, although on occasion he did open-up to friends.

Fred died on Wednesday 19th September, 1945, at the age of 39. He left behind his widow and a four year old son. His funeral was held at St. Lawrence's Church, Darlaston, where a colour party from the Royal Artillery carried his coffin. Fred is buried at James Bridge Cemetery.

He was a brave man, a thoughtful man, who suffered dearly, and wouldn't burden his family with his trials and tribulations. He was a hero in every sense of the word, and should never be forgotten.

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