20041 PTE E. BRIERLEY. R.D.FUS.
Researched and written by Tom Burke MBE, Chairman, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, 15 October 2000.
Edward (Ned) Arthur Brierley was born at Turner’s Cottages, Ballsbridge, Dublin, in 1896. Turner’s Cottages have long since gone, and were located on the site where the University College Dublin (UCD) Veterinary School is now situated. Edward came from a family of seven children; five boys and two girls. Before the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, Edward was employed by the Pembroke Urban District Council, which later became part of Dublin Corporation.
At the outbreak of war, aged 18, Edward volunteered to join the Army. He joined the 8th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Shining Eighth, as they were known. This battalion was one of the six service battalions of the Dublin Fusiliers. His regimental number was 20041. The 8th Battalion was part of the 48th Brigade, attached to the 16th (Irish) Division. It was also the battalion in which the well known Jesuit priest Father Willie Doyle SJ was serving when he was killed in August 1917.
Private Brierley was no ordinary solider. He received no fewer than three awards for bravery while serving with the 16th (Irish) Division. His first award was obtained on 9 September 1916 during the Battle of Ginchy, which was at the later stages of the Battle of the Somme. Ned received his second award for demonstrating bravery at Frezenberg Ridge, east of the Belgian town of Ypres, between 1 and 16 August 1917. This particular battle was the beginning of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, later known as Passchendaele. [It was for this action that Ned was awarded the Military Medal. The award was announced in the London Gazette on 16 November 1917, p.11936.]
In October 1917, the 8th Battalion of Dublin Fusiliers was disbanded. Some of the men were split amongst the regular 1st and 2nd Battalions of the “Dublins,” while others were sent to an entrenching battalion.
On Thursday 21 March 1918 Ned wrote in his diary: “Offensive started, hold Brown Line until 11:00 pm from 5:30am”. The offensive Ned refers to was the infamous German Offensive in March 1918 which effectively caused the annihilation of the 16th (Irish) Division. The Brown Line referred to was part of a defensive line established by the British. As part of this defence the Brown Line ran forward of the French village of Saint Emilie. Tragically, during this massive and final German assault, 1,062 men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were either killed, wounded by gas and high explosive shells, or, if they were lucky, taken prisoner.
Following the decimation of the 16th (Irish) Division during this “Spring Offensive”, Ned was transferred to the Royal Engineers serving with the 16th (Irish) Division. On 28 May 1918, his diary states “Leave Brigade for Division for to be remustered as Sapper.” He was now addressed as Sapper Brierley, MM, RE. His regimental number with the engineers was 313085. A sapper in the engineers was equivalent in rank to a private in the infantry. During the final Allied assault on the Germans in the Autumn of 1918, Ned obtained his third bravery award for gallant conduct in the field at Douvrin, between 6 and 9 October 1918.
After the War
Ned Brierley survived the killing fields of France and Flanders and returned to Ireland, where he resumed his job with the Pembroke Town District Council. He played football with Shelbourne Association Football Club (AFC) during the years 1925-1926. He also played football with Saint Mary’s United AFC, a Ballsbridge team attached to the Leinster Football League. During that football season Edward won a runners-up medal playing for Saint Mary’s in the Edmund Johnson Cup. In the years 1926-1927, again while playing for Saint Mary’s, he won yet another runners-up medal in the Metropolitan Cup.
On 17 September 1924 Edward married Mary Hayden, from Glasthule, Dublin, in the Church of Saint Joseph’s, Glasthule. His diary records the birth of his daughter Margaret Theresa, born 22 June 1925. Edward went on to rear another six children. His son Noel said of him: “My father was a very quite, hard working man who never spoke about his experience in the war.” Perhaps the horrors of the Somme, and what Edward had seen during those terrible years, made him a contemplative man, content to be alive and to rear a family. Something denied to many of his fallen and forgotten comrades.
Private Edward Arthur Brierley, of the “Shinning Eighth” Battalion, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died from a heart attack while at work on 23 November 1955, at the age of 59. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, County Dublin. May he and his forgotten comrades, who lie in those lonely graves in France and Flanders, rest in peace.
Ned Brierley in the Shelbourne AFC team, 1922. Ned seated in the middle.