The Valiant Dragoon and Hero of Dettingen, Thomas Brown, was born in Kirkleatham in 1705.
Not much is known about his early life other than that he was apprenticed to a shoemaker in Yarm before joining the army. It was on 27 June 1743, at the Battle of Dettingen during the Austrian War of Succession, that Tom earned his fame, at the time he was serving as a Dragoon in the 3rd Kings Own Hussars (Bland’s Regiment) fighting the French.
The battle of Dettingen is notable for two things… it was the last time a British Monarch (King George II) personally led his troops into battle and it was reputedly the last time a serving soldier was knighted on the battlefield. In this case it was our hero Tom Brown who was said to have been knighted as a ‘Knight Banneret’ by the King at the end of the battle for his actions.
During the battle the British forces were heavily outnumbered and had lost more than half of their men. The Cornet holding Bland’s standard was wounded and the flag fell to the ground. Tom, who had seen the standard fall, attempted to dismount to recover it. As he did so he was struck by a sabre blow which severed two of the fingers on his left hand. His horse took fright and bolted to the rear of the French lines where Tom again spotted the standard in the hands of a French soldier. Tom killed the French trooper, grabbed the standard, wedged the flagstaff between his saddle and himself, turned his horse and galloped through the massed ranks of the enemy back to his own lines.
As he charged through the French lines he received eight sabre cuts to the face, head and neck, losing most of his nose in the process, was hit twice in the back by musket balls and came close to death as another three musket balls passed through his hat. As he rejoined his own company he was greeted by ‘three loud Huzzas’ from the British troops who had witnessed his remarkable bravery.
While there may be some doubt over whether Tom was or wasn’t knighted on the battlefield immediately following the English victory, it is true to say that King George II did present Tom with a gold topped walking stick, a pension of 30 crowns a year … and a silver nose to replace his own nose which he had lost in the battle!
Following the events at Dettingen, and with two musket balls still lodged in his back, Tom retired from the 3rd Hussars with his pension of £30 a year from the King. He opened an inn in Yarm where he lived for the remainder of his life. This inn once held an oil painted sign of the hero in action, now sadly lost, but a replica of it can now be found in Yarm Town Hall.
The building remained an inn until it lost its licence in 1908. It has since been converted into two private homes, one of which bears a brass plate commemorating his life, the other has a blue tourist plaque to mark his former residence.
Tom was buried in Yarm Churchyard in 1746, and in 1968 to commemorate the bravery of one of their own, the Queens Own Hussars regiment presented a headstone to St Mary Magdalene’s church as a memorial to his service. The headstone can still be seen in the churchyard today.