|Lieutenant Colonel Alan Roderick HAIG-BROWN DSO|
23rd (Service) Battalion Middlesex Regiment (2nd Football)
Date of birth: 6th September 1877
Date of death: 25th March 1918
Killed in action aged 40
Buried at Achiet-Le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension Plot IV Row D Grave 3
|Alan Roderick Haig-Brown was born at Charterhouse School, Godalming in Surrey on the 6th of September 1877 the youngest son of the Reverend Canon William Haig-Brown LLD, Headmaster of Charterhouse, and Annie Marion (nee Rowsell) Haig-Brown of 19 Tite Street, Chelsea in London.
He was educated at Oxford Preparatory School (the Dragon School) from 1888 until 1890. While he was there he tied for the throwing of the cricket ball in 1889 and was a member of the Rugby XV, the Cricket XI and the Hockey XI. He won the Senior Gymnasium Cup, and was second in the open mile race. He also kept a pet goat while he was at the school. He won a Junior and a Senior Scholarship to Charterhouse School where he studied from the Oration Quarter 1890 to the summer of 1896. While there he was a member of the Football XI in 1895 and was a member of the 2nd XI Cricket team. In September 1896 he went on to Pembroke College Cambridge where he achieved an MA and played football for the university winning his "Blue" in 1898 and 1899.
The following appeared in a paper describing his debut for the university against Corinthians:-
"Great interest centred in the debut of A.R. Haig-Brown. An old Carthusian is likely to be a success, and it may be said at once that Mr. Haig-Brown worthily sustained the reputation of the Great School. Splendidly built, tremendously speedy and self possessed withal, he put in some very useful work on the outside right."
He also represented his college in the Cricket XI and was President of College Athletics. In 1899 he gained BA honours in the Classical Tripos and left university and in the same year he accepted an appointment to the position of Assistant Master at Lancing College.
In October 1901 he signed league forms to play as an amateur for Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club. The local newspaper, The Weekly Herald, described him as “A big sturdy chap who can do a lot of bustling work and get in some sweet shots." He made his debut for them on the right wing on the 2nd of November 1901 against the Army Association side in a benefit match which Spurs won 2-1.
In his career with Spurs he played in the following matches:-
15th of February 1902 v West Ham United at home lost 1-2 Southern League
8th of March 1902 v Swindon Town at home won 7-1 Southern League
13th of December 1902 v Corinthians at home drew 2-2 friendly match
6th of April 1903 v Queens Park at home won 1-0 friendly match
14th of April 1903 v Millwall Athletic at home won 2-0 Southern League
22nd of April 1903 v Swindon Town away lost 0-2 Southern League
Also in 1903 he represented Old Carthusians in the final of the first Arthur Dunn Cup
He also represented Clapton (later Leyton) Orient as an amateur, Brighton and Hove Albion as well as a number of other Sussex based clubs.
He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (Militia) on the 3rd of March 1906 as a member of the Lancing College contingent of the Officer Training Corps and was promoted to Captain on the 6th of October 1906. In 1908 the Militia became the Territorial Army and on the 17th of July 1908 his commission was transferred to the Unattached List for the Territorial Army.
He was married to Violet Mary (nee Pope) at Dorchester in June 1907. He and his new wife honeymooned at the lake Vyrnwy Hotel at Lake Vyrnwy in North Wales where they spent their days trout fishing. He recorded conditions of: - “arctic weather, often wet too.”; they caught sixty two trout between them. They had a son Roderick Langmure, born at Lancing on the 21st of February 1908, and two daughters, Joan Marion born on the 14th of December 1910 and Valerie Violet born in 1913. They lived at Stratton Cottage, Shoreham-by-Sea from where he cycled the four miles to the college, in all weathers, and was always at his desk by 7.15am. He was a passionate field sportsman and, while he was at the school he organised a small shooting syndicate among the other masters and trained some of the boys as gamekeepers and beaters. He also stocked a small pond at the school with rainbow trout and coached a succession of successful College shooting teams.
He was Commanding Officer of the Corps from 1906 to 1915 and during his period in command Lancing is thought to be the only public school in the country where every boy was a member of the Officer Training Corps on a voluntary basis. He assisted in the training of twelve New Army Battalions, including the 13th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) where he commanded C Company, before he transferred from the Officer Training Corps, Territorial Army Unattached List, to the 23rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment on the 1st of January 1916 and was promoted to Major on the same day, with precedence from the 21st of December 1915, being also appointed as second in command of the battalion. He was initially stationed at Salamanca Barracks at Aldershot and made a sort trip to France on an instructional trip in early 1916, returning safely. He embarked for France with his battalion from Southampton at 4.30pm on the 3rd of May 1916 and landed at Le Havre the following day.
On the 16th of September 1916 he was appointed as Commanding Officer of the 23rd Battalion and was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel on the same day.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for “distinguished service in the field” which was announced in the London Gazette of the 4th of June 1917.
He served in France from 1916 to 1918 and in Italy during 1917 and 1918. He was wounded twice, once in 1917, and was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig's despatches of the 25th of May 1917 and on one other occasion. His wife received the following telegram dated the 11th of June 1917: - "Beg to inform you Lt Col. A.R. Haig-Brown Middlesex Regt. was wounded June seventh but remained at duty." On the 6th of August 1917 he was admitted to hospital with a "mild sickness" but returned to his unit shortly afterwards. His wife received the following telegram dated the 20th of August 1917: - "Lt Col. A.R. Haig-Brown Middlesex Regt. admitted 14 General Hospital Boulogne August nineteenth wounded shell shock slight, any further reports sent when received."
In January 1918 he was joined in the battalion by fellow former Tottenham footballer 2nd Lieutenant, Walter Tull, the first back officer in the British Army and one of the first black footballers to play in the football league. He was back at Lancing while on leave from Italy in February 1918.
On the 21st of March 1918 the Germans began their spring offensive, attacking the allies on a wide front. They advanced under the cover of thick fog using artillery, gas and storm troopers to isolate and destroy British front line positions. The 23rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment had come under shell fire on the 23rd of March and at 11.30am on the 24th they took up reserve positions near Favreuil before moving at 9pm to a new line at the Monument on the Bapaume-Sapignies Road where they dug until dawn to improve their defences. They suffered 91 casualties during the day. At 8am on the 25th the enemy opened fire with their artillery and quickly followed this with an infantry attack in massed formation. British troops to the front of the Middlesex fell back, and passed through their line, but the Middlesex men fought on. Only when both their flanks were left exposed were they forced into an orderly retirement. By the time Battalion Headquarters began to withdraw the Germans were already in their trenches and Alan Haig-Brown was killed by machine gun fire during the rearguard action. The surviving members of the battalion fell back to Gommecourt where they were reorganised. Casualties were 3 officers killed (one of which was Walter Tull), 3 wounded and 1 missing with 13 other ranks killed, 61 wounded, 30 missing and 8 missing believed killed or wounded.
On the 4th of April 1918 Violet Haig-Brown sent a telegram to the Secretary of the War Office: -
"Please send news of Lt Colonel Alan Haig-Brown. Haven't heard for fortnight. Anxious."
Her message had crossed with another which was also dated the 4th of April 1918: -
"Deeply regret Lt Col. A.R. Haig-Brown DSO Middlesex Regt. killed in action March twenty fifth. The Army Council express sympathy."
She received a response to her telegram in a letter from the Secretary of the War Office dated the 6th of April 1918: -
"The Military Secretary presents his compliments to Mrs A. Haig-Brown, and in reply to her telegram of the 4th instant, begs to say that he expects she will by now have received a telegram from this Department conveying the sad news of the death in action on the 26th of March (sic) of her husband Lieutenant Colonel A.R. Haig-Brown DSO 23rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment. The Military Secretary is desired by the Secretary of State for War to express his deepest sympathy with Mrs Haig-Brown for the loss of her gallant husband."
Within hours of the news of his death reaching Lancing the Last Post was sounded in the College Chapel by the buglers of his beloved Officer Training Corps.
Sergeant J. Flaherty, 23rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment wrote to his wife of the fighting: -
“Dear Madame, I served under my late C.O. and was in all the actions the Battalion took part in and I can tell you honest it’s by only his fearless and daring actions that’s kept us all together when we were in tight corners, and besides being a splendid soldier he was also a true gentleman whose devotion to the welfare of his men and the interest of the Battalion I cannot express the words good enough to find: he was simply splendid. The last I saw of my Col. Was with his revolver in hand in the trench shouting encouraging words to his men, when I was hit and was sent back. He would never go back from the Germans. He was always telling us to die rather than be a prisoner, and I am certain he did that rather than be a prisoner, for we were nearly surrounded when I came away.”
Captain B.T. Foss, Adjutant 23rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment who was captured during the fight and wrote a letter dated the 11th of September 1918: -
“Upon receiving order to retire, the Colonel insisted upon remaining where he was until the battalion, and even his personal orderlies and servants, had safely evacuated the position. Then, to steady the nerves of his men, he walked slowly back completely ignoring the very heavy and well aimed machine gun fire which was hitting the ground all around us. It was this fire which mortally wounded him and left me the only officer untouched of the party of three. I did my best to get him back to safety but it was clear to me he very little chance of recovery…. Being sent back without an escort I endeavoured to render any assistance I could to the Colonel, but, before I could reach him, I was knocked over by a bullet, and before long escorted back by a German soldier who happened to find me. Since then the belief that the Colonel was too badly wounded to feel much pain has given me some consolation.”
JF Roxburgh, Royal Engineers, a master at Lancing from 1911 to 1922, wrote to his wife while he was home on leave: -
“Dear Mrs “Haiger”,
I can’t tell you with what sorrow I learnt of Haiger’s death yesterday from a very sad Lancing boy. I used to think of him that he was the finest specimen of manhood I knew…..There was nothing he did not do better than anyone else …. To me at any rate he was always an inspiration to clean and virtuous living. Roddie will grow up to be like him, I have no doubt, and I hope he was be a great comfort to you in these very dark days.”
His first Adjutant wrote:-
"It is only today that I have heard of the passing over of Colonel Haig-Brown. I think that I knew him better than most people who had the honour of serving under him, for I became his Adjutant on the same day that he assumed command of the battalion and thus was in a very intimate association with him day and night until I was wounded last June. My sympathy is thus linked with every personal sorrow; for my chief-almost my only- reason for wishing to return was in order to be with him again. Never was a C.O. so entirely beloved by all who knew him. He made the battalion what it was-keen and contented-and by his personal example instilled courage and efficiency in those with him."
One of his Subalterns wrote:-
"I am sure it will help you to know what affection, and almost reverence, everyone who served in the 23rd holds Colonel Haig-Brown's memory. There was not a single man in the battalion who did not love him. Nor did he, like some C.O.s, consider his men at the expense of his officers. None of us subalterns ever wished to serve under a finer man, and it has been our hope that when we go out again we should have the privilege of serving under him."
A Company Commander wrote:-
"It has been my privilege to serve under your husband for some years, both at Lancing and afterwards abroad. As one of his Company Commanders for nearly a year, both on the Somme and in Belgium, I can assure you of the love of the whole battalion, both officers and men, for their Colonel, The men adored him. Great as was our admiration for him as a soldier, it was the man behind this that won us all, and kept us cheerful among many unpleasant surroundings."
Another Subaltern wrote:-
"The men, as did all of us officers, recognised in our C.O. the practical expression of the highest and noblest ideals which could permeate a man and a soldier, and our C.O. was unquestionably both; and thus our loss is indeed a severe one, and will be most keenly felt by officers and men alike. Words cannot in any degree express the depth of sincerity of the feelings which, deep in our hearts, we had for our C.O., and which I verily believe, will never with any of us fail to be a source of inspiration and help at all times. Whatever our own shortcomings, his presence amongst us will remain as a treasured memory."
His Divisional General wrote:-
"He was one of the very best commanding officers, always ready for whatever was to be done, cheerful under the hardest conditions, and was ever ready for the welfare of his men. He is a very great loss to the battalion and the Army."
The Assistant Chaplain General wrote:-
"I don't think I have ever come across an instance of such regret, and even love, as was felt by officers and men of his battalion for him. You may indeed be very, very proud of his memory. A more gallant and cheery C.O. never commanded a battalion. From what I hear, he gave his life in seeing that others got clean away, and died, as he had lived, for the men he commanded."
An Old Lancing boy wrote:-
"I think perhaps we old boys realise more than most what a great man he was; and I, for one, know that his advice and help to me when I was at Lancing has since proved invaluable."
Many years after his death his son Roderick, himself a celebrated writer and fly fisherman, wrote of the father he had hardly known: -
"So little can I write in this piecemeal picture of a man I never knew, a man who lived in a different age than mine, in a different country and in far different ways. I have deeply missed knowing him and the riddle of what his life might have been will always puzzle me. Yet I do not regret the end for which he was so prepared, nor do I forget that the actions of his last hours rallied thousands of men and saved hundreds of lives on one of the darkest days of a bitter war. My father believed that it was a mistaken loyalty to play for a league or school team when called upon to play on an international team. In the same way, he believed that in peace or war a man's country had the first and only inescapable call upon his services. I believe that in this day and age his unwavering patriotism would recognise a still higher loyalty, whose shape is only beginning to be clear."
He was the author of “Sporting Sonnets” published by George Allen in 1903, “My Game Book”, published in 1913 by Witherby and Co of London and “The OTC and the Great War” published by Country Life Publications. He had contributed over 1,000 articles to the press with occasional articles appearing in the Times and in "Men Famous in Football" editions for both 1904 & 1905, where he gave his opinions of the best amateur players of the previous season. In 1922 his wife presented the school with a silver cup to be called the Haig-Brown Cup for miniature range shooting which was to be competed for by teams from each house.
He was originally buried at a place to the south of Biefvillers-les-Bapaume but his body was re-interred at its present site in 1920.
He is commemorated on the war memorials at Charterhouse School, at Oxford Preparatory School, at Pembroke College Cambridge, at Stratton in Dorset and at All Saints Church in Dorchester.