Captain Brian Hanbury Sparrow killed in the Baku campaign
Captain Brian Hanbury-Sparrow of Hillside, All Stretton, died 26 August 1918 in Baku, aged 21.
Brian Hanbury-Sparrow was born in 1896 in Tettenhall in Staffordshire, the younger son of Alan and Christina Hanbury Sparrow. Brian’s father, by then a retired solicitor, built Hillside, the impressive Edwardian Villa which stands above the road from All Stretton to Church Stretton around 1905 and moved his family there from Staffordshire. The 1911 census shows a household of 3 family members – the sons were away at school at Wellington College, and 4 indoor servants plus a Coachman and Gardener and their families living in separate apartments. A total of 17 adults and children were living on the property.
In 1915 Brian was commissioned aged 18 as a 2nd lieutenant into the 3rd battalion of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry. He was wounded and sent to India to recuperate. In early 1918 he was attached to the North Staffordshire regiment and took part in the allied expedition against the Ottoman Turks, under General Lionel Dunsterville.
The expedition was known as the ‘Dunsterforce’ and was sent across Persia to Baku. Its aims are unclear though the Soviet Russians saw it as an attempt to take control of the oil fields. Lionel Dunsterville went to school with Rudyard Kipling and is considered to be the model for Kipling’s character ‘Stalky’ in his novel Stalky & Co. Dunsterville’s diaries include a description of the attack in which Brian was killed
August 27th 1918
Arrived in Baku 3.30 p.m. Bob came on board to report. I am sorry that during my absence the Turks have made a successful attack on our very weak right and have captured the Mud volcano – our losses being 3 officers and 70 men of the N. Staffords killed, and 11 officers and 35 men wounded. The attack was a very determined one and had Baku troops been there I’m afraid Baku would have been taken. The odds were 4 to one and we had no artillery support and the Armenian infantry sent to support refused to go.
The campaign was a failure and Baku fell to the Turks in September 1918, resulting in a massacre of Armenians in retaliation for earlier atrocities. A memorial to Brian and other Allied casualties of the Baku campaign is in the Haidar Pasha Cemetery in Istanbul. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in the campaign.
A memorial window to Brian and his father can also be found in Eaton under Heywood church where Brian’s grandfather Arthur Sparrow was Lord of the Manor. The window was unveiled in 1938.
Brian’s elder brother Arthur Alan Hanbury-Sparrow also served in the army in the First World War. He wrote The Land-Locked Lake, one of the best regarded memoirs of the Western Front, which was published in 1932. Sadly this is no longer in print, though a copy is held by Shropshire Archives. Alan emigrated to Australia and died in 1982.