The Royal Army Medical Corps’ (RAMC) motto is ‘In Arduis Fidelis’, accepted as meaning ‘Steadfast in Adversity’. John Ernscleugh Brydon, a doctor attached to The Yorkshire Regiment during the First World War, epitomised the motto he wore on his cap.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) encourage us to visit and look after war graves in our community. The West Cemetery in Darlington contains a number of CWGC plots. Staff and pupils at Hummersknott Academy and the Chairman of the Cleveland Branch of the Western Front Association (WFA), Sean Godfrey, have taken an interest in the family plot where Brydon is laid to rest.
John Brydon was born at Milbank in Darlington; the sixth son of a seed merchant and nurseryman. He went to Richmond School then Edinburgh University and graduated with a degree in medicine. He practiced in Darlington and Corbridge.
When war was declared Brydon volunteered, was commissioned into the RAMC and was in the front line by April 1915. He was severely wounded, losing an eye but, despite this, he sought a return to the army.
Rejected by several medical boards he eventually appealed directly to the War Office and was given permission to rejoin the RAMC and, though offered safer jobs behind the line, he chose an attachment to the 4th Battalion of the Green Howards.
The tented home of the 4th Battalion ahead of their deployment to France, just happens to be the site of Hummersknott Academy.
On 27th June, 1917 the Battalion relieved the 5th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry in trenches near Bayencourt, north-east of Amiens when tragedy struck.
In a letter to John’s father, Lieutenant-Colonel Deakin wrote, “I am writing on behalf of all ranks of the Battalion to express our deepest sympathy in the death of Captain Brydon.
He died from the effects of gas. We were with him most of the time, and I can honestly say that he suffered none of those terrible effects of that early Chlorine gas. He just got weaker and weaker until his heart gave out, and as far as I could tell, he suffered no pain.
I don’t think there is an officer or man in the Battalion who has not felt his death. He was a wonderful Regimental doctor, always cheery, always working for the men’s welfare. We were all devoted to him. I feel personally that I have lost a dear friend and I shall be grateful all my life for having known him. There is nothing I can say to make this easier for you, but I think, if you could have heard what all the men said it would have been a little help to you in this terrible trouble.
What I feel is so sad about is that it should happen to a man who so gallantly preferred to soldier with an infantry Battalion to a safe job further back.”
It later transpired that a German shell had landed in the British lines bursting a supply of chlorine gas cylinders. The gas infiltrated the nearby aid station in which John was working. His duty being to the men in his care, he gave his gas mask to one of his patients.
John’s family visited his grave in 1918 and retrieved the original grave marker from his final resting place in St. Martin Calvaire British Cemetery. The Brydon family inscribed their son’s CWGC headstone with, ‘There is no service like his who served because he loves’. Family descendants have commissioned a replica grave marker to place on the family plot in West Cemetery.
We often bring you stories of research done by museum volunteers which help add to the human story behind the rank and number. In the case of John Brydon, we are grateful to a wider community of of people who share with us their family stories and artefacts, and who draw our attention to stories which add to our understanding of the regiment and those who served in it.
Thanks to Sean Godfrey, Edward Nichol, Nick Merifield, Hummersknott’s Deputy-Head, and the pupils of the school for their interest in John Ernscleugh Brydon and for sharing his story with us.