127453 PTE. A. BRIERLEY. M.G.C.(I).
Abraham Brierley was born on 25 September 1896 in Bolton and baptised on 26 October at Bridge Street Primitive Methodist Chapel. His family seem to have been quite itinerant by the standards of the time: his father Alfred was born, and married, in Oldham, but his grandfather, Samuel, was originally from Rochdale. Alfred was born in 1870 and in 1895 he married Martha Keeton (b. 1868 in Marsden Moor in Derbyshire). Alfred and Martha had 4 children, 3 of whom survived infancy: Abraham, Sidney (b. 1898) and Elsie (b. 1900). The family lived in Bolton for about 10 years (c. 1895-c. 1906) before moving back to Oldham. In 1911, three generations of the family were living at 4 St Thomas Street North, Oldham: Samuel was still working (age 69) as a labourer/iron worker; Alfred was a laundry man in the Oldham Union workhouse, and Abraham (just turned 14) had started work as an office boy in a cotton mill. Not long after (perhaps when Samuel died in 1916), the family moved to New Brighton, Cheshire.
Abraham was 18 when war broke out but he probably didn’t enlist until 1916, as he has a new-style service number: 127453. UK Soldiers Died in the Great War records that he was living at the time in New Brighton, and that he enlisted at Royton (between Rochdale and Oldham). He joined the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) and was posted to 19th Company. 19th Company formed part of 19th Brigade in 33rdDivision. In 1917, 33rd Division fought during the Battle of Arras (First and Second Battles of the Scarpe) and then they moved to the coast where they participated in Operation Hush. During the Third Battle of Ypres, they fought in the Battle of Menin Road Ridge and the Battle of Polygon Wood.
In early 1918, a major reorganisation of Battalion structures was undertaken. Previously, each infantry brigade had its own machine gun support (so 19th MGC supported 19th Infantry Brigade in 33rdDivision). But the reorganisation meant that all MGCs within a Division were combined and organised at Divisional level, so the three MGCs in 33rd Division (98th, 100th and 19th) were combined into 33rdDivisional MGC. This took place while the Division was near Passchendaele and they had to get used to the new structures in the trenches there, and then in training for a few weeks in Arras, before they were called on to put it into practice under heavy fire in April 1918. In 1918, they were not engaged in the first German Spring Offensive, but they were called into action when the second phase, Operation Georgette, was launched on 7 April. A German artillery bombardment that day on the Allied front from south of Ypres to Festubert on the Somme was followed by an infantry attack on 9 April. Between 10-18 April, 19 men from 19th Coy were killed, several have both 10 and 18 recorded as their date of death; none was recovered for burial. During the same period, 33rd Bn MGC had 17 officers and other ranks killed.
The beginning of April was fairly quiet and on 7 April the Bn moved first to Vlamertinghe then to Lattre-St-Quentin, near Arras, where they arrived on 12 April. From the previous Battalion MGC structure, 19thInfantry Brigade Group now absorbed “A” and “C” Coys; 100th InfBrig took on “B” Coy and 98th InfBrig took on “D” Coy. In fact, these Coys were now separated and directed to two different actions: 19th and 98th Coys went to Méteren, whilst 100th Coy was transferred to 25th Division, who were at Steenwerk. During the journey to Méteren, on 10 April, the train was hit by a shell. The war diarist describes this as a ‘sad catastrophe’ though casualties were fairly light – 1 man killed and 5 wounded, and 4 horses killed.
By the evening of 11 April, the Division was aware that the enemy had taken Estaires and Merville, about 13km south of Méteren. The following day, British troops were in retreat, followed rapidly by the Germans. Despite the fact that the infantry had been in retreat for 2 or 3 days, they were eventually reorganised to form a defence, under protective fire from the machine guns. By the end of the day they had managed to hold the line. The German’s attacked again at dawn on 13 April, followed by counter-attack by the British later in the day. The afternoon of 13 April was critical as the defences were running short of ammunition, but it arrived just in time.
The German dawn attack was repeated on 14 April but reinforcements arrived and by the end of that day, the various Divisions involved were able to establish a new front line, dig in and defend it until the evening of 18 April when it had become apparent that the Germans had exhausted themselves and the attacks ceased. The following day the 33rd MGC was relieved by the Australians. In the view of the commanding officer, the success of the defence was entirely due to the new organisation of the machine gun support and the few days of hasty practice they had managed to get in the field at Passchendaele and in camp near Arras.
Abraham was killed in the fighting between 10-18 April. He was 21 years old. He was awarded the Military Medal. The award was announced in the London Gazette on 29 August 1918 (LG Supplement 30873, p. 10115), so his award was probably for bravery in relation to the attack on 12-19 April. Attached to the Company Commander’s lengthy report of the action is a list of names of personnel whose conduct was worthy of note, but Abraham’s name is not on the list, so we’re no closer to knowing what his brave action was.
Service No: 127453
Date of Death: 10/04/1918 (other records say 18 April)
Regiment/Service: Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), 19th Coy.
Awards: M M
Panel Reference: Panel 154 to 159 and 163A.
Memorial: TYNE COT MEMORIAL
Additional Information: Son of Alfred and Martha Brierley, of 44 Egerton Street, New Brighton, Cheshire.