Curator Georgina tells the story of a soldier and his journey through the First World War.

This year we have been celebrating the postcard. Exploring how this small everyday object has had such longevity and the extraordinary importance it has had for people through history. This cannot be expressed better than through the story of Harry Brown. On display in our temporary exhibition we have a small collection of the postcards Harry sent to his mother during the First World War. Using these cards we can track Harry’s progress during the war, offering us a window into his experiences.

Harry was the son of Charles and Elizabeth Brown from Eastbourne and joined The King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1914. The history of the regiment dates back to 1755 but they only became known as the K.R.R.C. in 1830. During the First World War 22 battalions were formed and in total over 12 thousand men lost their lives.

Postcard with a pictorial image of a soldier along with information on the history and traditions of the regiment.

The King’s Royal Rifle Corps Postcard, 1914

In January 1915 Harry sent a postcard to his mother from aboard HMT Southampton on his way to France. He talks of how he is ‘at last’ on his way to the front and that he had a good send off with friends. At the end of the short message, he comments on the ‘tremendous’ number of troops aboard, reminding us of the sheer quantity of men and boys that went off to fight.

Postcard written portrait with the annotation 'Aboard HMT Southampton' in the top right corner.

Postcard sent aboard HMT Southampton, 1915

One of these men was photographed with Harry in uniform before they embarked. Unfortunately, we do not know the name of the soldier shown sitting next to Harry, or whether he returned home. This type of photographic postcard was sent home to loved ones as a reminder of the men and in some cases it was the last image they would have of them.

Black and white photo of a soldier sitting and another standing next to him with his arm on the back of the chair.

Photographic postcard of Harry Brown and Colleague, c.1914

A huge concern for the war effort was the leak of information to the enemy. Soldiers’ postcards were censored to prevent leaks and to catch possible spies passing on secrets. As a result, the Field Service Postcard was introduced in 1914. In the example below Harry had to select from pre-printed messages on the card, limiting what he could say. Any postcards with additional text could be confiscated and destroyed by the censor.

The front and back of a Field Service Postcard with messages selected by Harry.

Field Service Postcard, 1915

In July 1917 the 2nd Battalion King Royal Rifle Corps saw action at Nieuport les Baines. On the 10th of July heavy bombardment struck the British forces by the Germans. The troops fought back but were unable to withstand the German attack. The commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel R.N. Abadie was killed and it was here that Harry Brown went missing.

The front of a letter with address of Harry Brown along with handstamps and the hand written annotation 'Missing 10-7-17'.

Letter with annotation ‘Missing 10-7-17’

A letter sent to Harry from his mother in July 1917 was returned baring the stamp ‘Missing 10-7-17’. His mother sought information through the Red Cross, but it was unknown at the time whether Harry had perished in the attack. Harry was in fact captured as a prisoner of war and first taken to a camp in Dülmen as annotated on the Army Form below but was later transferred to Bayreuth in North Bavaria.

A postcard printed and hand written text explaining Harry was captured and where he has been transfered too.

Postcard Army Form explaining Harry’s capture, 1917

During the war all countries agreed that prisoners of war should be able to send mail home free of charge. We have examples of German POW postcards from Harry to his mother discussing his treatment in the camps. One of these cards talks about his work on a farm.

The front and back of a prisoner of war postcard from Harry Brown annotated as written on the 12th of April 1918.

Prisoner of war postcard from 1918.

My Dear Mother Since I last wrote I have come quite a distance from camp + am now working on a farm, the work is a bit hard for one not used to it but it no doubt make a man of me + when I have been at it a few weeks it will come much easier. Ploughing with a team of [men?] is quite a change for me attending to [?] etc. I was only in camp just over two weeks, one feels much more free on a farm. Having no guard to go about with. It must be quite a month since I received any mail, but expect some is now on the way from Bayreuth. I hope this will find everyone OK as this leaves me. Fondest love to all from Harry.


The First World War came to an end on 11 November 1918, however, Harry was never to return home. A mere 16 days after peace was announced he died of what was described as an inflammation of the lung. Harry’s mother did not receive word of his passing until 17th February 1919. He was roughly 35 years old. Harry’s grave can be found on plot IV.K.17 at the Neiderzwehren Cemetery in Kassel, Germany where a further 1,796 First World War servicemen are buried or commemorated.

A black and white photograph of Harry Brown's grave with the insignia of his regiment engraved into the grave stone and flowers placed infront.

Photograph of Harry Brown’s grave

In a way reading these postcards seems to feel too personal, as though we are listening into a conversation, we have no part in. But I feel honoured that we have these cards and can preserve them. Through this collection of postcards and the information we know about Harry, we have some insight into his experiences and can tell part of his story.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Deputy Curator, Philately