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Bessell-Browne, Alfred Joseph (1877–1947)

by Merrilyn Lincoln

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Alfred Joseph Bessell-Browne (1877-1947), by A. Henry Fullwood

Alfred Joseph Bessell-Browne (1877-1947), by A. Henry Fullwood

Australian War Memorial, ART02498

Alfred Joseph Bessell-Browne (1877-1947), soldier and businessman, was born on 3 September 1877 at Auckland, New Zealand, son of William Henry Brown (Bessell-Browne), insurance inspector, and his wife Harriott Maria Searle, née Linton. The family migrated to New South Wales in the mid-1880s and Alfred became a pupil at Camden Grammar School. They later moved to Western Australia and, after attending Perth High School, Alfred joined the Patents' Office as a clerk in 1896. That year he enlisted in the Perth Artillery Volunteers and by 1899 was a sergeant.

When the South African War broke out, Bessell-Browne enlisted in the 1st Western Australian (Mounted Infantry) Contingent as a private. His unit reached Cape Town in November 1899, served with the Kimberley Relief Force and in operations in the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Cape Colony. Having been promoted through all the ranks Bessell-Browne was commissioned lieutenant on 22 April 1900. He returned home with the contingent in March 1901 but immediately re-enlisted in the 5th Western Australian Contingent, serving as adjutant, then second-in-command. He was promoted captain in June, was mentioned in dispatches in July and received the Distinguished Service Order. On returning to Perth in April 1902 he resumed his public service career and on 12 May next year married Muriel Maud Manning at St George's Cathedral. He rejoined the Australian Field Artillery as lieutenant, was promoted captain in 1908, and in 1909 attended a course in military science at the University of Sydney. That year he resigned from the public service and went into business as a wholesale merchant.

Bessell-Browne was major commanding the 37th Battery, A.F.A., when World War I began. Appointed major in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1914, he was given command of the 8th Battery, and left for Egypt in November. His unit was at Gallipoli during the landing but, because of the difficulty of positioning field-guns in the rugged terrain, its artillery was not brought ashore until 4 May 1915; 400 infantrymen hauled two guns on drag-ropes up precipitous slopes to the crest of Plateau 400. Until August Bessell-Browne commanded this battery, which bombarded Turkish lines at Lone Pine; from then until the evacuation he commanded the 2nd and 3rd A.F.A. brigades in turn. His final task on Gallipoli was to destroy guns which could not be taken out. That year he had been appointed C.M.G. and mentioned in dispatches.

In March 1916 Bessell-Browne, a lieutenant-colonel since 1 January, left for the Western Front. His 2nd A.F.A. Brigade was posted to the Somme and in July provided part of the covering barrage for the attack on Pozières—one of the earliest creeping barrages. In September he was made temporary commander of the 1st Divisional Artillery which served at Flers in the winter of 1916-17. Promoted colonel and temporary brigadier general in January 1917, he was in charge of the 5th Divisional Artillery until the end of the war and in this period emerged as an outstanding commander, constantly showing his capacity for solving difficult problems of technique and command. At Polygon Wood he sent three batteries to cover the Australians' exposed right flank: this was probably the first time that defence of a flank by artillery had been attempted in a trench-warfare attack. With the transition to mobile warfare after Villers-Bretonneux in 1918, he quickly adapted tactics to give close support to the advancing infantry during the attacks on the support systems of the Hindenburg Line and the final penetration at Bellicourt. Here, in its finest performance during the war, the 5th's artillery put down a creeping barrage at an angle of ninety degrees from the line of sight to cover an attack at Le Catelet. In October Bessell-Browne supported the 30th American Division in the Selle River sector and received the American Distinguished Service Medal. He was appointed C.B. for his services in France and Flanders and was mentioned in dispatches nine times.

Demobilized in July 1919, he resumed work as a merchant. By 1921 he had established an indent agents' firm, Bessell-Browne Ltd, in Perth, and remained its managing director until his death. He served with the Australian Military Forces as a colonel until World War II, when he commanded the Western Australian Volunteer Defence Corps, and retired as brigadier general in 1942. Survived by his wife, three daughters and four of their five sons, he died of cancer on 3 August 1947 and was cremated with full military honours.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937)
  • Statistical Register (Western Australia), 1897
  • West Australian, 4-6 Aug 1947
  • Bessell-Browne file (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Bessell-Browne, Alfred Joseph (1877–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bessell-browne-alfred-joseph-5223/text8789, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 28 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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