11990 SJT. F. BRIERLEY. MM. W.RID.R.

 

Frank Brierley was born on 3 January 1897 in Huddersfield and baptised on 4 July that year.  His father was Joe Brierley (b. 1873 in Longwood, Huddersfield), a boot repairer by trade.  His mother was Elizabeth (Lizzie) Kemp (b. 1874 in Seven Oaks, Kent).  Joe and Lizzie were married in 1896 and they had 3 children: Frank, Harry (b. 1898 but died in infancy), and Marion (b. 1902).  In 1911, the family was living at 96 Longwood Road, Huddersfield.  Frank, then 14, had started work as a twister-in in a woollen mill.

 

Frank was under age when he enlisted, probably in late 1914.  He signed up with the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), was assigned service number 11990 and posted to 8th Battalion.  8th (Service) Battalion came under orders of 34th Brigade in 11th (Northern) Division. After training they sailed from Liverpool in July 1915 for Gallipoli, landing at Suvla Bay on 7 August 1915.  Frank’s Medal Index Card says that he landed on 7 July, but in either case we know he fought through the Gallipoli campaign.  The Division was withdrawn on 19/20 December 1915, to Imbros, and on 26 January 1916 they moved to Egypt.  From February to June, they were engaged in the defence of the Suez Canal.  On 26 June, they were ordered to move to France and they arrived on the Western Front in early July.

 

At some stage, Frank was transferred to 10th Battalion, which came under orders of 69th Brigade in 23rdDivision.  11th and 23rd Divisions were never far apart in 1917, being both engaged at Messines and in various phases of the Third Battle of Ypres.  11th Division were engaged in the early part of the battle, at Langemark, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde and Poelcapelle, and 23rd Division at Menin Road and Polygon Wood, and also the final phases, the First and Second Battles of Passchendaele.  The Medal Roll record shows that Frank switched between 8th and 10th Battalions at least twice, but by the end of Third Ypres, Frank was a Corporal and he remained with 10Bn when 23rd Division moved to Italy where it then remained. It completed concentration between Mantua and Marcaria on 16 November 1917 and took over the front line at the Montello (a hill close to the River Piave, north of Treviso) on 4 December.

 

23rd Division was part of a British and French force sent to Italy to bolster Italian forces after they suffered the catastrophic defeat of Caporetto.  On 24 October 1917, the Austrians launched an attack at Caporetto (now Kobarid in Slovenia) and in little less than a month had forced the Italians to withdraw to a defensive line south and west of the river Piave – 120km!  It was the initial success of the German and Austro-Hungarian attack which eventually proved its downfall, as the invaders could no longer feed and supply their troops in the field.  Italian losses were enormous:  10,000 killed; 30,000 wounded; 265,000 taken prisoner – many surrendering willingly to escape the harsh disciplinary regime enforced by their hated commander-in-chief Luigi Cadorna.  Cadorna was forced to resign and he was replaced by Armando Diaz.  The opposing armies now entrenched and the Italians, now supported by 6 French and 5 British Divisions, began the painful process of rebuilding.  The British and French played no part in halting the Austro/German advance as when they arrived they dug in near the Mincio River, believing the Piave would not hold the advance.  However, they were wrong and the Italians did finally hold the line at the Piave.

In 1918, although British and French troops were helping to bolster the front line, far more decisive than Allied help in troops was Franco-British (and US) help in providing strategic materials such as coal and steel which Italy sorely lacked. In the spring of 1918, Germany pulled out its troops to redirect them to support the upcoming Spring Offensive on the Western Front.  An Austrian attempt to break through at the Second Battle of the Piave (June 1918) failed, their plans having been betrayed by Austrian deserters.  This defeat was not immediately followed up, but by this time the Austro-Hungarian Empire was beginning to fall apart.  By October 1918, the Italian army finally had enough soldiers to mount an offensive.  This came at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, 26 October – 4 November.

At some point Frank was promoted Serjeant.  On 24 October, 10Bn were at Lovadina near the River Piave and on 26th they approached the river and formed up ready for the attack, which began at 06.45 on the morning of the 27th.  When they began crossing the river, they experienced considerable difficulty as the river was much deeper than expected.  Some men were swept away and drowned, others had to swim across.  Having crossed the river, by midday they had taken the village of Borgo Malanotte, despite strong resistance from the enemy, in the form of machine-gun fire.  An enemy counter-attack at 13.00 was repelled.  During the day, the Bn took 1400 prisoners, and captured 2 field guns, 3 infantry guns, 38 machine-guns, 2 horses and stores of all kinds.  The War Diary records 3 officers and 23 Other Ranks killed, 1 officer and 70 OR wounded and 5 OR missing.  CWGC gives a final tally of 40 officers and men from 10Bn dead.  Among them was Frank Brierley, killed on 27 October 1918, the second day of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, he was 21 years old.  He was awarded the Military Medal for his part in the battle.  The announcement of the award of his medal was made in the London Gazette, 24 January 1919, p.1224.

 

Rank:  Serjeant

Service No:  11990

Date of Death:  27/10/1918

Age:  21

Award:  M M

Regiment/Service:  Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment), 10th Bn. 

Cemetery/memorial reference: Plot 4. Row B. Grave 13.

Cemetery:  TEZZE BRITISH CEMETERY

Additional Information:  Son of Joe and Elizabeth Brierley, of 142 Longwood Road, Longwood, Huddersfield.

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