Two years ago I was volunteering in a charity bookshop. It was the perfect job. I spent my four hours a week drinking coffee and exploring the boxes upon boxes of donated books. I never knew what I might find; and then one day I found Arthur.
I was sitting downstairs behind the desk sorting through an old stack of books when the photograph fell out. I asked my boss what it was, but he simply shrugged with nonchalance, ‘Oh that’s rather sad, no one knows what to do with it.’
I sat, turning the mysterious photograph of this young man in my hands, and that was when my journey with Arthur Brown began.
A scrawl from a long past sweetheart indicated he had died in the Second World War aged eighteen, and this was the photograph he had sent to his darling. On the back she had written his name, his age and how he had died. She had also included a quote, ‘I loved him as he first loved me and purchased my salvation on Mount Calvary.’ I instantly realised I couldn’t just let this photograph stay here and fall into limp neglect, it was already held together with cello tape.
Following my newly found inspiration, I took the photograph home and left it on my mantelpiece. I literally had no idea where to begin or how to start this task. To get the investigation in motion I went to the Central Library in Belfast and checked the newspaper records; after that I checked the only available censuses from 1901 and 1911. Brown was such a common surname and every corner led to a dead-end. It was at this time that I found out I had gotten a place at BSU. I put my research on hold and moved to England. It was hard to research from Bath, as many of the archives could only be accessed in person and not online.
When walking through Belfast last Christmas I happened upon the War Museum and decided that, having failed my search elsewhere, maybe they would have an idea. I showed Arthur’s photograph to the staff and was told that, from the uniform, they knew that Arthur was in the Irish Guards, however they had no record of his death in any memorial books. They put me in touch with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with the hope that they might have his burial records.
It was just an ordinary day when I found Arthur. I was in university when I sent the email to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They responded that very evening with a list of men named Brown, all like Arthur who had died fighting fascism on the Western Front. I knew instantly that it was him. Finally, I had found out what had happened to this young man whose photograph I had grown to know so well. His piercing eyes and warm smile were now illuminated by his story.
Arthur had died aged eighteen on 5 March 1945, just two months before the war was won. He had been part of the final offensive into Germany and had died on the Dutch/German border from wounds sustained in battle. He is buried in Mook Molenhoek, a sleepy village on the Dutch border. I always thought finding him would be the end of my story but now I realise it is just the beginning. Follow my journey at findingarthur.co.uk