Samuel Browning (Service Number 7782)

In this audio Samuel’s great great nephew Daniel Browning read from his letters home from the front, and provides biographical context, with additional audio from Samuel’s daughter Betty Shields.  A variation on these recordings was first made for ABC Radio National’s ‘Awaye!’ Program, hosted by Daniel Browning (22 April 2017). Daniel Browning kindly re-recorded the letters for this app. The audio of Betty Shields was taken from an ABC TV program, ‘ANZAC Day brings pride and pain for Aboriginal digger’s daughter’,25 April 2013.

Introduction by Patricia Ansell Dodds – Story by Daniel Browning

“It was even after he was severely gassed in France, near Rouen in 1918, that my great great uncle Private Samuel Browning, of the 15th battalion, was keeping the true horror of his experiences a secret from his mother and his sisters. He sent a few postcards home. They’re still in the family’s keeping.
But Sam Browning was certain about one thing. In an undated letter from Bath, where he was convalescing, he begged his mum stop his younger brother George from signing up. He writes
“This will bring my note to a close with the best of love to you and all at home,
from your loving son Samuel.
PS: Tell George to stop where he is, instead of enlisting – one is enough from home, so don’t forget”.
So no sense of the horror he’s experienced on the Western Front, all he can think of is his younger brother George.
Anyway, I’m glad to say George did not enlist and uncle Sam was really very firm with his mother, “One is enough from home”
Another card. Dear Mother, Just a card hoping it will find you and all at home in the very best of health. Well mother I am all right don’t worry. I’ll be going to London on the 28th of this month for a six- day spell. Tell sister May to send me one of King’s photos, he must be a big boy now, Give him a good big kiss from me, and also the twins
I am longing for a good feed of oysters and pippies. I’d give ten bob for a feed.
Remember me to all of the two-up players. Tell them I am still soldiering on, training every day.
Did Sponsor ever enlist? Let me know when answering
Goodbye mum
May God bless you and all at home, and keep you all until I return
You get a sense of how much he misses home, not just those oysters and those pippies, but that boy he is talking about, is King, my grandfather Noel Browning, who went on to serve in the Second World War
Another post card Sam sends to his sweetheart Charlotte. And what it intimates is that she’s pregnant, she’s carrying his child
October the 30th 1917, Dearest Darling, Just a card of token, hoping it will find you Pet in good health. I am in Liverpool Camp tonight. We’ll be sailing tomorrow. My dearest one, don’t forget our promises we made. May God bless you and keep you from all harm until we meet again.
From your loving Sam
So he was scarred permanently by his war service, my uncle Sam, and in these postcards home you get a real sense of the man, you get moved by these letters. They have an extraordinary power, I think, to still move us. So uncle Sam is waiting to come home to see this little one, but unfortunately Aunty Charlotte lost that little baby.
Betty Shields is the only surviving child of Sam and Charlotte Browning. She’s my aunty
So the story ends happily, Uncle Sam returns in 1919 but he’s broken in many ways. I’ve been told stories that he was very difficult to understand. I mean he died of bronchopneumonia in 1961, but only his mother and sisters could really understand what he was saying when he spoke. His vocal chords were so affected by that severe gassing in France in 1918. In our family, Uncle Sam is a hero. Samuel Browning is a Bundjalung man, He’s from the far north coast of New South Wales, a little fishing village called Fingal”

Samuel Browning was born in Cudgen, NSW in 1889, and was employed as a labourer when he enlisted in Lismore on 28 August 1917. Samuel joined his Battalion in France in April 1918 while they were involved in operations north of Amiens near the town of Hebuterne. The battalion was sent to the front line soon after.

Samuel Browning was severely wounded in August 1919. His battalion were caught amongst a heavy five hours barrage of Gas Shells. Most were able to protect themselves with respirators and the men were eventually transported away from the area to Allonville. Here the effects of the gas began to take effect – swollen eyes and violent headaches. 75% of the Battalion were affected, some very badly.

The officer who reported on the incident, Major Sampson suspected ‘Yellow Cross’ Gas (Mustard Gas) had been used. With little wind on the day to disperse the vapours, the effects were severe.

Private Browning was first treated at a French field hospital but due to the severity of his symptoms was then transported to England for care. He was considered convalescent by October 1918 but never returned to active service. He was placed on an ‘early return’ list and repatriated home in January 1919. Samuel Browning returned to his family in the Tweed, marrying his sweetheart Charlotte Slabb upon his return and making his living as a fisherman. He died in 1961.

SOURCE: Daniel Browning re-recording Copyright: Daniel Browning

Photo of Samuel Browning kindly provided by Daniel Browning

Armistice Centenary – World War 1 Stories is a partnership between the Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank and 8CCC Community Radio. This project was made possible through the support of the Alice Springs Town Council Community Assistance Grants, The Australian Government Armistice Centenary Grants Program and Produced with the assistance of the Community Broadcasting Foundation. Find out more at