265364 PTE. T. W. BRIERLEY. CHESH.R.
(I am grateful to David Hughes who posted the newspaper articles about Samuel Brierley’s court case.)
Thomas Wilson Brierley was born in the last quarter of 1894. There is some confusion in the records as to the location of his birth. Some say Bury, some say Stockport and some say Stalybridge. In 1901 and 1911 the family was in Stalybridge so that’s my choice. His father was Samuel Henry Brierley (b. 1851 in Oldham), an accountant, and his mother was Sarah Hannah Wilson (b. 1855 in Stalybridge). Samuel and Sarah were married in 1875 and had three children: Eleanor (b. 1889), Harold (b. 1893 and then Thomas. Samuel as a young man seems to have been a bit of a rogue. At the end of 1877, aged 26, he was arrested for fraud and embezzlement. He was caught stealing cheques from his employers (Messrs. Wharam and Hollingworth, hat makers). His job was to take cheques and pay them into the bank but he kept some back for himself and had them cashed by a pub landlord. At the time he earned about £2 a week but he stole upwards of £340. When he cashed the stolen cheques in the pub he would splash out 16s on two bottles of champagne. To cover his tracks at work, he entered the stolen cheques in the company books as paid in full but he got tripped up when one of the cheques was spotted by the bank cashier as post-dated so it was returned to the company where it was noticed that the endorsing signature on the back was a forgery. To make things worse, when a police constable turned up at Sam’s house with a warrant for his arrest, Sam pulled out a gun and threatened first to kill himself and then to kill the policeman. In the ensuing fracas, Sam shot the policeman in the leg and scarpered but was later apprehended at his father’s in Oldham. At Chester Assizes in January 1878, Sam was found guilty of embezzlement and attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years’ penal servitude, which he served in Parkurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. After his release he went back to his wife and they started their family. But it wasn’t long before Sam was in trouble again. In 1892, he was charged with obtaining goods by means of false pretences, although on this occasion he was acquitted. He died in 1897 when his son Tom was only 2, so it’s not clear how much Tom would have known about his father’s murky past.
In 1901, Sarah was back at work in the cotton mill and looking after her three school-age children but by 1911 all the children were working in the mill and they were living at 9 Brierley Street, Stalybridge. Tom was a piecer. He signed up as soon as War broke out and enlisted with the Cheshire Regiment and was assigned service number 1494 and posted to 6 Battalion. When the system changed in 1917, Tom was assigned a new service number, 265364. His medal records show that at some stage he was assigned to 177 Tunnelling Company and also 39 Reinforcement Camp. 6Bn Cheshire Regiment is more correctly 1/6th Battalion. They were formed in August 1914 in Stockport as part of Cheshire Brigade, Welsh Division. On 10 November 1914 they left this Division and landed in France (that’s the date Tom landed). On 17 December 1914 they were attached to 15th Brigade in 5th Division. On 1 March 1915 they transferred to GHQ and spent several months on guard and other duties at Rouen, Abbeville and Dieppe. On 9 January 1916 they transferred to 20th Brigade in 7th Division and on 29 February 1916 they transferred to 118th Brigade, 39thDivision. In late 1916, the Division was engaged in the final phases of the Battle of the Somme, specifically the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and the Battle of the Ancre.
In December 1916, after their final engagement on The Somme the previous month, 39 Division moved to Boesinghe, north of Ypres. There they engaged in training, trench digging and general fatigues. 177 Tunnelling Company, with whom Tom spent some time, was based at Railway Wood, near Hooge, a couple of miles east of Ypres. 39 Reinforcement Camp was obviously a divisional unit so it looks as though Tom’s specialism was in tunnelling work. The early months of 1917 saw the Battalion engaged in a regular drudging cycle of reserve, training, trench work and front line defence. They are based near Wieltje and the trenches are regularly bombarded with trench mortars, rifle grenades and whizz-bangs. In March they are at Zillebeke and in April at Brandhoek, all the time engaged in the same round of trench duty, training, reserve and fatigues, constantly under enemy artillery fire and in dire conditions due to the weather. Throughout April and May the Battalion supplies working parties to the Royal Engineers (presumably this is when Tom is seconded to 177 Coy). In June, the Battalion embarked on ‘special training in open warfare’ as the planning for the forthcoming offensive became more intense. On 1 July, the Battalion took over the trenches at Hill Top, near Ypres and on 5 July they launched a raiding party on the enemy trenches.
The War Diary says:
At 2am 4 officers and 133 OR (including 10 RE) raided the enemy trenches at CALIBAN TRENCH and CALIBAN SUPPORT, with the object of killing or capturing as many of the enemy as possible: guns. T.Ms., dumps, tramways etc.; gaining information regarding the enemy’s front line systems and troops occupying same; to lower the morale of the enemy. Barrage support from Hows. 18 pdrs. M.Gs. and T.Ms. In spite of the strenuous opposition all objects were achieved and information of considerable value obtained. All dugouts were destroyed excepting two for which the mobile charges were insufficient. 5 prisoners were taken, 3 of whom subsequently died. Casualties: Lieut D M Crew (missing believed killed) and 19 OR wounded. The enemy afterwards put up a very heavy barrage for 40 minutes on the front line and C. Ts., causing considerable casualties and damage to trenches. Killed 4 OR, wounded 19 OR. 2 Military Crosses, 2 DCMs and 4 Military Medals awarded for raid.
CWGC confirms that 1 officer and 4 Other Ranks were killed that day, including Thomas Wilson Brierley, who was 22 years of age.
Service No: 265364
Date of Death: 05/07/1917
Regiment/Service: Cheshire Regiment, 6th Bn.
Grave Reference: I. L. 54.
Cemetery: BRANDHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of Samuel Henry and Sarah Hannah Brierley, of Stalybridge, Cheshire.