"My God, who is that? He is a plucky fellow." – Captain J A O Brooke, 2nd Gordon Highlanders
James Anson Otho Brooke, born 3 February 1884, was the eldest son of Sir Harry Vesey Brooke, KBE, and Lady Brooke of Fairley House, Countesswells. At the outbreak of war he had had been an officer in the 2nd Gordon Highlanders for nine years, and came from Egypt to join the army at the front.
Brooke was killed in battle on 29 October 1914. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Captain and awarded the Victoria Cross. The London Gazette of 16 February 1915 records how Brooke won the highest of all British military distinctions:
"For conspicuous bravery and great ability near Gheluvelt on the 29th October, in leading two attacks on the German trenches under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, regaining a lost trench at a very critical moment. He was killed on that day. By his marked coolness and promptitude on this occasion Lieutenant Brooke prevented the enemy from breaking through our line, at a time when a general counter-attack could not have been organised."
Lieutenant Mackenzie, also of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, described Brooke’s actions that day in a letter that was quoted in The Aberdeen Journal of 12 November 1914:
"When I first saw Lieutenant Brooke that morning (29th) he was collecting the lines to advance again. This he was able to do, and we had a couple of strong lines, composed of Grenadiers, Scots, Camerons (a few), Black Watch and ourselves. We advanced about a hundred yards, and three times were forced back by being enfiladed on the left. However at last we managed to get a little further forward owing to the help of another regiment working round our left flank, and machine guns being brought up to sweep a line of hedge, where the enemy were having pot shots at us.
"After all this we were feeling rather a severe strain, but Lieutenant Brooke took charge of the whole line, and we began to think things were going to turn out all right. He went from right to left of the line, absolutely regardless of any danger, and at last he gave the order for a general advance of the line. Just after we got on the move he told me to swing half of the line and make for some support trenches which had been made by the Grenadiers... When we got into the support trench we found that the Germans were occupying the fire trench about 200 yards in front of us and from that position started to pepper us... It wasn’t a very nice position and I saw Lieutenant Brooke, who was on the left of the trench, twice leave it and double behind a house to send a message for support on our right. He had about 25 yards in the open to cover, and each time, going and coming, I saw dozens of bullets spluttering red dust off the brick walls of the cottage.
"There was a Second-Lieutenant in the Grenadiers near me in the trench who said to me, 'My God, who is that? He is a plucky fellow.' I told him he was our Assistant-Adjutant and the comment was, 'Well, he’s a devilish brave fellow.' And so he was. He was perfectly splendid; but I suppose it was less than a couple of minutes afterwards that the word was passed along the trench that he had been struck by a bullet, and almost at once afterwards came the word that he was dead... His last words to me were 'If they charge us, get out of the trenches and wait for them'."
Captain James A O Brooke was 30 years old when he died. He is buried in Zantvoorde Cemetery, Belgium.
Source: David Oswald (Aberdeen City Libraries).