The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra
Alfred Bessell-Browne; A Western Australian Gunner 1877–1947
Alfred 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 (Camden NSW). They later moved to Western Australia where he attended Perth High School. Bessell-Browne’s first job was as a clerk in the patents office in 1896.
Bessell-Browne enlisted in the Perth Artillery Volunteers held the rank of sergeant in 1899 when he volunteered for South Africa, enlisting in the 1st Western Australian Contingent as a private. The first contingent was originally an infantry unit but was converted to mounted infantry whilst part of the Australian Regiment in February 1900. At this point he was listed simply as Alfred Brown, it is not clear if this was his choice or if the administrators presumed that Bessell was a given name. He subsequently amended this to Bessell Browne later in the war as this appears to be the correct family name. His unit reached Cape Town in November 1899 and took part in the Kimberley Relief Force and operations at Colesberg, Hoot Neck, Zand River, Klipps River and many other actions. Bessell-Browne was quickly promoted through the non commissioned ranks and was commissioned as a lieutenant on 21 April 1900. He returned to Australia in March 1901 and immediately joined the 5th Western Australian Contingent as a lieutenant, serving as adjutant to the combined 5th and 6th contingents and then second in command, the CO being Lt Col J R Royston DSO (in World War One known as ‘Galloping Jack’). Bessell-Browne was promoted to captain in June 1901 and in July was mentioned in dispatches ‘For Conspicuous Gallantry at Brakpan 16 May 1901’ at the same time he was also reported dangerously ill with Enteric fever. He received a second mention in dispatches in the London Gazette 31 September 1902 for ‘Conspicuous good service in General Bruce Hamilton’s operations in the Ermelo District December 1901 and January 1902’ and this time was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). From March to May 1902 he was attached to the staff of Colonel Frederick Wing the British Column commander.
He was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with 4 Clasps and the King's South African Medal with the clasps South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902.
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 following year took the Diploma of Military Science course at the University of Sydney. 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. He called for volunteers from his battery, the whole parade stepped forward. Bessell-Browne and his battery departed Fremantle for Egypt on 2 November 1914 and arrived there on 12 December 1914.
Bessell-Browne arrived at Anzac on 1 May 1915, his unit was restricted by a lack of good gun positions. Bessell-Browne and his unit saw repeated action on Anzac both in support of Australian troops and by direst fire on Turkish positions. 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. For his services at Gallipoli, Bessell-Browne was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) and Mentioned in Despatches.
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 Pozières, which saw first use of a creeping barrage by Australian troops. On 8 September 1916 he was attached to the 1st Division Artillery and took command of that from 28 September 1916 to 18 January 1917 in the absence of Brigadier General 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 flexible and adaptable and pioneered new tactics to provide close support for infantry. In the attack on Bellecourt, 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 in France, Bessell-Browne was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and had been mentioned in dispatches no less than seven times during World War One. He finished the war as a brigadier general. He also held the C&AFLS medal as well as the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers Decoration (VD).
He was Honorary Colonel to the 28th Battalion as well as 3rd Field (Artillery) Brigade and from 1917-1920 was Aide de Camp to the Governor General
After the war, he established an indent agents' firm. Retiring initially in 1935 he returned during World War II to command the Volunteer Defence Corps in Western Australia. He retired finally as a brigadier in 1942.
Bessell-Browne died on 3 August 1947 and was cremated with full military honours.