1208 SJT. M. R. BRIERLEY. R.F.

 

Martin Reed Brierley was born in March 1881 in Croydon, Surrey (Martin is recorded in the 1881 Census as ‘unnamed’ and under one month old, the Census date was 3 April).  His father was Jonathan Brierley (b. 1844 in Leicester), a Congregational Minister.  His mother was Selina Crossley (b. 1846 in Leicester).  Jonathan and Selina were married in West Ham in 1872 and had five children: Harold Eustace (b. 1873), Frank Crossley (b. 1874), then Martin, Herbert Dawson (b. 1883) and finally Lilian Margaret (b. 1884).  Jonathan was also a journalist and author and retired from his Ministry, probably in 1909 when he turned 65, as he gives journalist and author as his occupation in 1911.  Martin’s older brother Horace followed his father into the church while Martin was a bank clerk.  The family moved to Willesden in Middlesex and in 1907 Martin married Violet Lilian Norton Pratt (b. 1886 in St. Helier, Jersey).  They had two children, Alan Martin (b. 1908) and Barbara Violet (b. 1909).  In 1911, Martin and his family were living at Bank House, L & S W Bank, New Barnet, Middelsex.

 

Martin enlisted with the Royal Fusiliers (City of London) Regiment.  He was assigned service number 1208 and posted to 22nd Battalion.  22nd (Service) Battalion (Kensington) was formed at White City on 11 September 1914 by the Mayor and Borough of Kensington.  In June 1915 it came under command of 99thBrigade, 33rd Division and Martin landed with his battalion at Boulogne on 16 November 1915.  On 25 November 1915 the battalion was transferred with its Brigade to 2nd Division.  2nd Division had been engaged in the Battles of Festubert and Loos in 1915 and 99th Brigade arrived later as reinforcements.  2nd Division then took part in the Battle of the Somme, and in particular at Delville Wood and the Ancre.

 

In the early months of 1916, the Battalion was in and out of the trenches, and in training, near Givenchy, to the north of Arras.  They remained in this area of the front through July, when the Somme offensive began to the south.  However, on 20 July they are moved to Morlancourt, south west of Albert, then on 24-25 July they move to Montauban where they go into the trenches and suffer a gas attack.  On 27 July, the War Diary says, 99th Brigade assaulted and captured Delville Wood.

 

A later entry says that men were still coming back from the fighting up to two days later, especially the Lewis gun teams.  It was probably during this action that Martin displayed the exceptional bravery for which he was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.  The War Diary noted the award on 23 September.  By this time Martin had been promoted to Sergeant.

Citation for Distinguished Conduct Medal

(published in London Gazette, 20 October 1916, p. 10198)

1208 L./C. M. B. Brierley, R. Fus. For conspicuous gallantry in action. After his machine-gun officer had been wounded he took charge of three machine guns, and by his successful dispositions repelled several counter-attacks. He remained on duty 28 hours without water.

 

From 25-31 July, 22Bn had 66 officers and men killed.

 

By November, the battalion had moved to the northern part of the Somme front, near Mailly-Mallet.  On 13 November, following an intensive artillery bombardment, the battalion attacked the German lines.  By the evening of 15 November, the battalion had consolidated its position, despite appalling weather and almost impossible conditions.  The War Diary reports that casualties were relatively light under the circumstances: one officer killed and 4 wounded; 19 OR ranks killed, 56 wounded and 7 unaccounted for.   CWGC records a final count of one officer and 24 OR killed on 13-14 November.  During this operation, 22nd Battalion had been ‘lent’ to 6th Brigade and had come under their orders.  This was part of the Battle of the Ancre.

 

For the rest of that year, the Battalion was at rest and received a number of new drafts.  On 26 December, they also had one man shot for desertion: 9629 Pte. C W F Skilton.  They spent most of this time at Yvrench but by the end of January they had moved back to the Somme, near Bouzincourt, 99th Brigade having taken over the Courcelette sector of the line.  They were in the trenches from 1-5 February, when it was freezing, the War Diary says rarely above 20 degrees below freezing!  On 6 February they buried one of their officers, Capt. Roscoe, a captain, awarded the Military Cross, and dead at just 19 years of age.  The following day, another man was found dead outside his billet from cold and exposure.  On 16 February they returned to the front line at Miraumont.

 

The map shows the position of 99th Brigade on 16-18 February 1917.  A sudden thaw turned the ground back to deep mud.  The artillery bombardment failed to cut the German barbed wire.  A supporting attack on the flanks failed and after two days, the attack was abandoned with no gains having been made.  Many acts of bravery were recorded, especially among the machine gun teams.  Martin Brierley was later Mentioned in Dispatches (no citation, record published in London Gazette, 22 May 1917, p 5027), but it's not clear what led to this award.  He was killed in action on 17 February 1917.  He was 35 years old.  His body was not recovered.

 

In the action at Miraumont, 22Bn had 103 officers and men killed.

 

Throughout the winter of 1916/17, the German high command had been considering a strategic withdrawal.  Morale among front line troops was low and the positions they occupied were becoming untenable.  Although Miraumont achieved little at the tactical level, it was another push which hastened the German withdrawal to the Siegfriedstellung (the Hindenburg Line) which began in March 1917.

 

Rank:  Serjeant

Service No:  1208

Date of Death:  17/02/1917

Regiment/Service:  Royal Fusiliers, 22nd Bn.

Awards:  D C M, Mentioned in Despatches

Panel Reference:  Pier and Face 8 C 9 A and 16 A.

Memorial:  THIEPVAL MEMORIAL

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