Above: Percy (back row right) with other workers on the TVO c. 1908. Courtesy of John Waterhouse
Private Percy Charles Brown
Pakenham & District War Memorial & Pakenham State School Roll of Honour
Born: 1893 - Hawthorn, Victoria
Enlisted: 18 September 1916 aged 23
Unit: 14th Battalion 24th Reinforcement (SERN: 7211)
Served: Western Front
Died: 12 May 1966 - Berwick, Victoria
Percy was the son of Thomas and Matilda Brown of “Mayfield” orchard in the Toomuc Valley. Thomas and Matilda moved to Toomuc Valley (then known as “Pakenham North”) in 1893. Thomas initially worked on the famous Toomuc Valley Orchard (TVO), which was managed by his brother-in-law Thomas Grant. The TVO became regarded as one of the finest apple orchards in Australia and under Grant’s management, pioneered export of apples to the United Kingdom (1). Thomas later leased land at the Pakenham racecourse for dairying and worked an orchard in Healesville before returning to the Toomuc Valley where he planted “Mayfield” orchard along what is now Brown’s Road. Percy and his siblings all attended Pakenham North State School (2) but after this closed, Percy went to Pakenham State School which was then located on Main Street. In later life, Percy remembered that it was “the height of luxury if they [Percy and his brother] were able to get a ‘lift’ to and from school on one of the orchard lorries. Many a time ... he ‘hoofed‘ it for the six miles into town, where the teacher was Miss Hagens. On the way in they would meet up with Bert Hogan and the Stone boys” (2a). Percy also remembers going on kangaroo hunts in the Toomuc Valley, with the youngsters chasing mobs of 20-30 kangaroos through the bush on horseback (2b). After finishing school, Percy worked on the TVO himself (2c) and appears to have also been a horse driver. In those days, teams of horses were used to transport the fruit from the orchards down to the Pakenham railway station (3). A “curious accident” was reported by the local press in 1913 involving a valuable horse owned by Percy: “Getting restive on the Toomuc bridge, it landed its two hind legs over the rails and was only rescued after considerable difficulty from its dangerous position” (4). Around 1915, Percy’s brother George planted his own orchard on Brown’s Rd and Percy moved there with him (5).
Percy enlisted in September 1916, aged 23. Initially assigned to the 37th Battalion 6th Reinforcement at Seymour, Percy was later transferred to the 14th Infantry Battalion, 24th Reinforcement. He embarked for England in February 1917 on the HMAT Ballarat. Two other Pakenham district Diggers were also onboard: Don Black and Charles Johnstone of Pakenham Upper. It was onboard the Ballarat that Percy was introduced to the realities of warfare when the ship was torpedoed on 25 April 1917 by a German “U-boat” off the Cornish coast. In July 1917 Percy was taken on strength with the 14th Infantry Battalion in France. In early October 1917, the 14th Battalion took over the front at Broodseinde Ridge near Ypres, which had just been captured by British and Australian forces. There, on 22 October 1917, Percy was wounded in action, sustaining a severe gunshot wound to the head. Percy was hospitalised first in Boulogne, then in England. For Percy, the War was now over. He was sent back to Australia in March 1918, and discharged from the Army in August 1918. In December 1918, the Pakenham community presented Percy with a gold medallion in grateful recognition of his war service (6). In addition to the Pakenham & District War Memorial, Percy’s service is also remembered on the Officer Public Hall Roll of Honour, which was unveiled in 1918.
Following his return, Percy resumed orcharding, eventually establishing his own property “Wistaston” in Officer. In 1924, Percy married Doris Peake. They raised their family at Wistaston, remaining on it for 42 years (7). Percy was a very community minded citizen. As the Pakenham Gazette noted, “there was nothing worth while in Officer with which he was not associated” (8). Amongst the causes he generously served were the Officer Union Church, the Officer Sports Ground and Public Hall Committees, the Officer State School Committee, Officer Fire Brigade and the Officer Football Club (9). He was also Secretary of the Officer Branch of the Fruit Growers’ Association (10). Doris Brown was active in the community life too, including through the Officer Mother’s Club; organising local dances and euchre parties; and serving as President of the Officer Branch of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) for many years (11). Percy died in 1966 aged 73 years. His funeral service was held at the Officer Union Church, which was filled to capacity. The Pakenham Gazette described this as a “striking tribute” paid to a “genial, helpful man”, who had been “a real friend to many whom he came in contact with” (12). Percy was buried in Springvale Cemetery.
The assistance of John Waterhouse is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) Waterhouse (2014) p. 8
(2) (2c) and (5) Waterhouse (2014) 7B
(2a) & (2b) PG 21/4/1961, p. 12
(3) Waterhouse (2014), p. 40
(4) South Bourke & Mornington JournalJ 23/10/1913 p. 2
(6) Pakenham Gazette 6/12/1918 p. 3
(7) (8) (9) & (12) Pakenham Gazette 20/5/1966
(10) & (11) Narre Warren Family History Group (2016) pp. 17-18