Brigadier General Alfred Bessell-Browne

3 September 1877 - 3 August 1947

AWM Accession Number: ART02498 Artist: Fullwood, A. Henry Title: Brigadier General A J Bessell-Browne Date Made: 1918 Medium: watercolour and goauche with charcoal Dimensions: Overall: 39 x 56.7 cm AWM copyright

Alfred Joseph Bessell-Browne was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on 3 September 1877, the son of an insurance inspector. The family immigrated to New South Wales where Bessell-Browne attended Camden Grammar. They later moved to Western Australia where he attended Perth High School. Bessell-Browne took a job as a clerk in the patents office in 1896.

Bessell-Browne enlisted in the Perth Artillery Volunteers and was a sergeant in 1899 when he volunteered for South Africa, enlisting in the 1st Western Australian (Mounted Infantry) Contingent as a private. His unit reached Cape Town in November 1899 and participated in the Kimberley Relief Force and operations at Colesburg, Hoot Neck, Zand River, Klipps River, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Diamond Hill, Wittenbergen, Bothaville, the Orange Free State, Transvaal and Cape Colony. Bessell-Browne was promoted through all the NCOS ranks and was commissioned as a lieutenant on 21 April 1900. He returned to Australia in March 1901 but immediately joined the 5th Western Australian Contingent as a lieutenant, serving as adjutant and then second in command. He was promoted to captain in June 1901 and in July was was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). From March to May 1902 he was attached to the staff of General F. Wing.

Bessell-Browne returned to Australia in May 1902 and rejoined the 1st Western Australian Field Battery with the rank of lieutenant and honorary captain. He was promoted to captain in 1908 and the next year took the Diploma of Military Science course at the University of Sydney in the same class as Lieutenant Colonel J. J. T. Hobbs. He was promoted to major on 28 August 1911, and took command of his battery, now known as the 37th Field Battery.

On 28 August 1914, Bessell-Browne was appointed to the AIF with the rank of major and given command of the 8th Field Artillery Battery. Calling for volunteers from his battery, the whole parade stepped forward. The youngest of the trainees were rejected and their places filled by older trained men. Otherwise the battery went as it stood, departing Fremantle for Egypt on 2 November 1914 and arriving there on 12 December 1914.

Due to the difficulty of locating gun positions in the rugged terrain at Anzac, Bessell-Browne's 8th Battery was not landed until 1 May 1915, when two guns were hauled by 160 men to a point below the crest of the 400 Plateau. On 3 May 1915, Major General W. T. Bridges ordered Bessell Browne to move his guns up to the Plateau. On the night of 4 May, Bessell-Browne complied but at dawn it was discovered that they were in visible to the Turks. The guns were covered up with bushes and withdrawn at nightfall. Bridges went in person to Bessell-Browne and explained what he wanted done. As a result, at 4pm that afternoon, in full view of the Turks, the crews of the two guns hauled them up to the 400 Plateau on ropes, ran then forward in the infantry's trenches, fired fourteen shots as rapidly as possible at the Turks at 450 yards range, and withdrew before anyone became a casualty.

Bridges determined that the operation should be repeated, and so it was, on 6 May, with 20 more rounds being fired without loss. Bridges then ordered a third shoot. The commander of the 1st Division Artillery, Colonel J. J. T. Hobbs, whose own son was among the gunners, objected but was overruled. The shoot was carried out a third time at 7pm. By this time the Turks were starting to reply quicker and two men were wounded. Hobbs recommended Bessell-Browne and Sergeants J. R. Braidwood and W. D. Wallis for decorations. Braidwood and Wallis were awarded the Military Medal.

On 9 May, guns were finally dragged up the Pimple, a protruding part of the line on the 400 Plateau. During the Turkish attack on 19 May 1915, Bessell-Browne feared that his guns might be lost and ordered the breech blocks removed but the crisis passed. The battery was frequently shelled from two sides. From 13 to 17 July, the 8th Battery was involved in a daily duel with the Turkish field artillery. On 2 August 1915, Bessell-Browne took over as commander of the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade. He was switched to the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade on 27 August, back to the 3rd again on 8 September and then back to the 2nd on 13 September. During the evacuation of Anzac he commanded the Rear Party Artillery. The last round fired was from a gun of the 8th Battery. Explosives were ten laid in each remaining guns to wreck them. For his services at Gallipoli, Bessell-Browne was made a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) and mentioned in dispatches.

Bessell-Browne was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel on 15 October 1915, a promotion made permanent on 1 January 1916. He was evacuated to Egypt sick on 12 January 1916. He rejoined the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade in Egypt on 19 February 1916. It embarked for France on 12 March. Bessell-Browne's brigade participated in the attack on the Pozieres, which saw first use of a creeping barrage by Australian troops. On 8 September 1916 he was attached to the 1st Division Artillery and commanded it from 28 September 1916 to 18 January 1917 in the absence of Brigadier General J. J. T. Hobbs.

On 18 January 1917, Bessell-Browne became commander of the 5th Division Artillery. Two days later he was promoted to colonel and temporary brigadier general. He commanded the 5th Division Artillery at Bullecourt and Third Ypres, where he employed artillery to cover the flank. In the mobile warfare that followed the German offensive of 1918, Bessell-Browne showed himself adaptable and flexible and pioneered new tactics to provide close support for the infantry. In the attack on Bellicourt, he was able to put down an accurate barrage at 90 degrees from the line of sight to cover the attack at Le Catelet. From 16 to 24 October 1918, Bessell-Browne commanded the US 30th Division's artillery, for which he was awarded the American Distinguished Service Medal.

On 8 November 1918, Bessell-Browne took Anzac leave to return to Australia on furlough. The war ended three days later so he rejoined the 5th Division artillery on 1 December 1918. He finally returned to Australia in 19 April 1919 and was demobilised in July. For his services on the Western Front, Bessell-Browne was made a Companion of the Bath (CB). In all, he had been mentioned in dispatches no less than nine times.

After the war, he established an indent agents' firm. During World War II he commanded the Volunteer Defence Corps in Western Australia. He retired as a brigadier general in 1942.

Bessell-Browne died on 3 August 1947 and was cremated with full military honours.

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1899-1939, Vol 7, pp.278-279; AWM 183/7; Bean, C. E. W., The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume I: The Story of Anzac p. 58; Volume II: The Story of Anzac pp. 67-70, 143, 349

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Last update 22 September 2001