John Brand

From the War Memorial records, it seems that the last name to be added to the Fallen of Duxford in the Great War was Sapper John Brand who died on Tuesday 4 February 1919 and is buried in France. His mother, Jennifer Brand, lived at “Heath Cottages”.

Every death recorded on the village War Memorial was a family tragedy, but this final addition, the death of Edward John Brand, seems particularly poignant.

Edward had been born at Littlebury in January 1898 to Guinevere (Jenifer) Abigail Mynott and Charles Brand. His parents had married locally on 27 November 1897 but his father then died in 1900 when Edward was only just over two years old. His mother never remarried and Edward remained her only child.

At the time of the 1901 census, Jenifer and Edward were living back with her parents at West Wickham – incidentally next door to George Flack who is also on the War Memorial. The 1911 census has Jenifer living as servant to Eliza Garbert, also a widow, at Norman Hurst, Stapleford – whilst Edward, a 13-year-old school child, is living still with his grand parents and their son Jabez Mynott, but now moved from West Wickham to Heath Cottages at Duxford Grange.

On 23 February 1916, he was living at 20 Hooper Street in Cambridge and working as an 18-year-old GER Engine Cleaner. On that day he voluntarily enlisted with the Railways Operating Division of the Royal Engineers. Was this to avoid compulsory enlistment when this became law in March of that year? – at least he managed to keep out of the PBI (the poor bloody infantry).

Although he was only 5ft 4 inches tall, just over 9 stone, with an expanded chest of only 35 inches (and had poor teeth) he did in due course become a Fireman, before eventually becoming a Driver. Perhaps because of the importance of his work he was then was placed in the Army Reserves but, moving towards mobilisation, he had another medical examination at Cambridge on 25 January 1917 – now described as an acting Fireman – and was on 17 March issued at Cambridge with a Royal Engineers Railway and Canal Troops identity card. On 21 March 1917 he was moved on to Active Service and, on 2 December of that year, was posted to Egypt – travelling from Southampton to Le Havre and arriving at Marseilles a week later – where he missed his scheduled Troopship, which had been sunk by enemy action.

While serving in Egypt with the 96 Light Railway Operating Company his only military offence seems to have occurred when he was driving a Military Ambulance Train on 8 September 1917. He left his Engine without permission and was absent from 1336 until 1400 hours. The 24 minutes delay cost him a day’s pay!

What relief at Heath Cottages on 11 November 1918. The end of the “War to end all Wars” – and Jenifer’s only son had survived, and would soon be home.

Sadly, Edward’s return journey home from Egypt to Duxford ended at Calais on 2 February 1919 where, having contacted the “Spanish flu”, he died at the 10 Canadian Stationary Hospital. He is buried at Les Baraques Military Cemetery, Sangatte, Calais.

[Listed at the Hospital, his personal effects were two letters, a wallet, a “religious book”, a diary, an album, three silk handkerchiefs, “beads”, two badges, a pen, a metal wrist watch and strap, a One Rupee (Souvenir Note), four coins, and, rather touchingly, a “Book on Light Railways”. With the exception of the One Rupee, these were sent to Jenifer at Heath Cottages on June 4, although it was only after the Rector had certified on August 7 that she was Edward’s closest relative that she was sent a Money Order for his outstanding pay. She probably also received his Victory medal and his British War medal.]

Jenifer died in the summer of 1931 aged 54 and perhaps mercifully not aware that her son’s sacrifice had not been in the “War to end all Wars”?

Information on this page kindly contributed by Mr Philip Wade