'In memory of William John Brannan' Highvolume Play Pause Stop

A memorial to William John Brannan, a former resident of the Royal Albert Asylum who died in the Boer War
Nigel Ingham

In the main entrance hall at the Royal Albert, Lancaster was a brass memorial which honoured William John Brannan, a resident who died in the Boer War in 1900. This plaque was still in place in 2020, by which time the former institution had been Jamea al Kauthar Islamic College for over twenty years.

The General Annual Meeting of the Subscribers to the Royal Albert Asylum was held in the De Vitre Hall of the Institution, on Thursday, September 26th, 1901:

‘Immediately after the General Annual Meeting, the unveiling of a brass tablet in memory of William John Brannan (an ex-patient of the Institution), trooper in the 13th Hussars, who died in Natal, South Africa, May 16th, 1900, was performed by Colonel Foster.’

Colonel Foster was vice-chairman of the Royal Albert Asylum’s committee. According to research carried out by Bernice Baynard, his speech at the unveiling was reported in the Lancaster Guardian (September 28th 1901):


‘The visitors and those who had been taking part in the annual meeting proceeded to the entrance hall to witness the unveiling of a tablet to the memory of Trooper Brannan, formerly a patient at the Asylum, who had died in Natal.

‘Sir John T. Hibbert said although it was a small matter, they might still be proud of the fact that a young man trained in the Institution should not only enter Her Majesty’s army but that he should be sent out to South Africa to fight the battles of the country.

‘Colonel Foster [vice-chairman of the Institution’s committee] said he considered it very fitting that the Committee should provide some record of the young man. Brannan was born in 1875, and at ten years of age was admitted to the Institution. He remained for seven years, and got on well at school and in the workshop. He took great interest in the trade of a joiner, and when he was discharged it was thought he would be competent to earn his livelihood as a village cartwright.

‘Apparently his friends were not successful in getting him employment, and he enlisted in the 13th Hussars. It was a fine regiment of cavalry, and 28 years ago he (Colonel Foster) was in barracks with them for six weeks at Aldershot. It had turned out some famous men, including Baden-Powell, the hero of Mafeking – (applause) – and Sir Evelyn Wood. After the first few weeks Brannan took to soldiering and seemed to enjoy it. He went out to South Africa and fought at Spion Kop, and also took part under Lord Dundonald in the relief of Ladysmith. Subsequently he was made orderly in a military hospital at Mooi River, where he met his death.

‘It was interesting to note that when on furlough Brannan visited the Institution and delighted the children by the splendour of his uniform. There had been five or six patients in the Institution who had left the Institution sufficiently well trained as to be able to enlist in the services of the country. The tablet was unveiled amid cheers, and the inscription read by Colonel Foster. A portrait by the side exhibited Trooper Brannan amidst a group of patients.’

This Lancaster Guardian extract can be found on an Anglo Boer War website. Here, Baynard, along with other key contributors (not least ‘LinnelL’) offers further insights into the life and military service of William John Brannan. Highlighted are the demanding military standards expected of recruits to the 13thHussars. In addition, posts from RootsChat indicate that Brannan came from Irthington, a village in what was then called Cumberland (now Cumbria). Also revealed by LinnelL are details of Brannan’s likely service in South Africa, as well as his death. According to this source, a ‘Cavalry Roll’ records:

“3411 Pte. Brannen W.J., 13H, Died of Enteric, Ladysmith, 16/5/00. BRANNAN on casualty roll”.

It seems that enteric fever, which we know as typhoid, was a major cause of death at Ladysmith. There was an epidemic of the disease, which it is claimed killed more troops than those who died in the fighting.

Finally, William John Brannan is remembered by the Imperial War Museum.

Many thanks in particular to Berenice Baynard, as well as those who posted on the online forums referenced above.

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