680852 GNR. J. BRIERLEY. R.F.A.
John (Jack) Brierley was my great-uncle. He was born in the first quarter of 1890 in Bamber Bridge. His father was also Jack Brierley (b. 1857 in Walton-Le-Dale), a cloth presser in a cotton mill. His mother was Margaret Parkinson (b. 1858 in Walton-Le-Dale). Jack and Margaret were married at Brownedge St Mary’s on 8 January 1880 and they had 9 children: Tom (b. 1880), Annie (b. 1882), Maggie (b. 1883), Bill (my grandfather) (b. 1887), then Jack, James (1891-1915), Mary Jane (b. 1893), Matt (b. 1895) and Joe (1903-1914).
In 1911, the family was living at 2 Ellen Street, Bamber Bridge. Jack was working at the Leyland rubber works but his other working siblings all worked in the cotton mill.
In the first quarter of 1915, Jack married Mary Ann Woodruff (b. 1890 in Bamber Bridge). In May 1915, a very large contingent of men from Bamber Bridge enlisted in the 2nd West Lancashire Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. The local GP, Dr Charles Trimble, had been very active in promoting the artillery over the previous 20 years.
The brothers remained together through training in 1915 and 1916.
285 and 286 Brigades RFA were the artillery support for the 57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division. They embarked for France in February 1917. Whilst in France, the men were not fighting all the time and fighting was more intense at some time than others. The graph below shows the casualties suffered by the West Lancashire Brigades from 1917 to 1920 and hence the periods when they were most active. May-July 1917 was the defence of Armentières, October 1917 was the Second Battle of Passchendaele, April 1918 was the Battle of the Lys in the German Spring Offensive and September 1918 was the Allies’ final push especially the Battle for Cambrai (8-9 October). The Division also participated in the occupation of Lille (17 October).
At some stage, we don’t know precisely when, Jack was transferred to 21 Battery in 2 Brigade, RFA. 2/21 however were not part of the West Lancashire Brigades and fought on a different part of the front. So where was Jack and how did he end up in Germany, where he died in 1919?
Throughout 1917, 2 Brigade was engaged in the defence of Arras, north of the Somme, where they suffered heavy losses. Jack could have been transferred at some point during the year in response to the Brigade’s losses. In January 1918 they are at Authuille, on the Somme, and by end of month at Beaumetz, where they remain until the end of March. On March 21 (the start of the German Spring Offensive) they are at Morchies and were forced to withdraw but then re-group and counter-attack. In July they are advancing around Vlamertinghe, west of Ypres. The enemy begin to withdraw in early September and the brigade advance, suffering further losses, until, at the armistice, they were at Avèsnes-sur-Helpe, close to the Belgian border. On December 2 they assembled at Fraire (near Walcourt, just over the border in Belgium), the starting point for the March to the Rhine, and from there they marched (yes, marched) to Bodenheim, arriving on 22nd of the month – a distance of 330km or just over 200 miles in 21 days! When they arrived, 21 Battery billeted at Lommersum, where they engaged in recreation and demobilisation until the end of the month. The War Diary ends here so there is no further record of what the Brigade was specifically engaged in, or why Jack had to stay in Germany. The function of the British Army of the Rhine was to ensure that the German army did not attempt to regroup and also to defend means of transport especially bridges across the Rhine.
Jack died of influenza on 17 April 1919. Although the main ‘Spanish’ flu epidemic occurred the previous autumn and winter there was a spike in new cases in the spring, and it’s fairly clear from the list of soldiers buried in Cologne that they suffered in the same way as the general population. Cologne Southern Cemetery, where Jack is buried, holds 655 soldiers who died in the first 5 months of 1919. These men had recently marched from France and were therefore not suffering from war wounds, so the only reasonable explanation for such a large number of deaths is flu – and the pattern of deaths at Cologne exactly matches the spring 1919 spike. Jack’s death is especially sad though, as it happened right at the end of the epidemic and he was the only man in his Brigade to die in Germany. (Photo right of his funeral cortège). Jack was 29 years old. His wife, Mary Ann, never re-married and she died in Bamber Bridge in 1971.
Service No: 680852
Date of Death: 17/04/1919
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, 21st Bty. 2nd Bde.
Cemetery/memorial reference: IX. A. 9.
Cemetery: COLOGNE SOUTHERN CEMETERY
Additional Information: Husband of Mary Anne Brierley, of 1 James Street, Bamber Bridge, Preston.
The photo is about 1897. Standing: Annie, Tom, Bill, Maggie. Seated middle row: Jack, James, Margaret, Jack. Seated front: Matt and Mary Jane. Margaret died in 1905. James died in 1915. Joe, not yet born when the photo was taken, also died young.
The picture shows Bill, Tom and Jack standing and Matt seated by their father, just after they enlisted in May 1915. James, their brother, died just a couple of weeks before this photo was taken.
This picture shows the Roman Catholic men from Brownedge who enlisted in May 1915. Jack is right in the middle of the picture, just in front and to the right of the man in civvies. His brother Bill is seated at the front with the little boy in uniform, Bill’s son Jack.
The above picture was taken during training, probably in 1916. Tom is standing, left, smoking his pipe; Bill is two to his left; and two to his left again is Matt. Jack is kneeling, second from the right.
The picture above shows the 4 Brierley brothers, it looks like in the same camp and therefore at the same time as the previous photo. Matt is standing 3rd from the left, next to him is Jack, then Tom, then Bill.