294337 LBDR. F. BRIERLEY. R.G.A.

 

Fred Brierley was born in July 1893 in Rochdale.  His father was Edmund Brierley (b. 1859 in Rochdale), an outdoor labourer.  His mother was Frances Ann Turner (b. 1860 in Rochdale).  Edmund and Frances were married in 1880 and they had eight children, 5 of whom survived infancy: Eleanor (b. 1884), Clara (b. 1888), Leah (b. 1891), then Fred and finally Harry (b. 1897).  In 1911, the family was living at 6 Holts Yard, Hamer, Rochdale.  Fred was working as a cotton mule piecer, though later he went to work in a woollen mill and the family moved to 64 Halifax Road, Hamer.

 

Fred enlisted on 1 November 1915 in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was assigned service number 3794.   When the new-style service numbers were introduced in late 1916, Fred was assigned 294337.  Fred was 5’10” tall and weighed 168lbs.  He remained at home, in training as a gunner, until 18 June 1916, when he landed in France.  He served with 144th (York) Heavy Artillery, 1 Company, 36 Group.  He was appointed Lance Corporal (Lance Bombardier) on 30 August 1917.  He was taken prisoner on 30 November 1917.  

 

The War Diaries suggest that 114th Heavy Battery was merged with or became 110th Siege Battery sometime in 1916.  Siege Batteries RGA were equipped with heavy howitzers, sending large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory, plunging fire. The usual armaments were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, although some had huge railway- or road-mounted 12 inch howitzers. As British artillery tactics developed, the Siege Batteries were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strongpoints, dumps, store, roads and railways behind enemy lines. 

On 31 July 1917, the effective strength of 110 Siege Battery was 7 officers and 127 other ranks.  They were located at Annequin, south east of Béthune.  They spent the whole summer there engaged in attacks on enemy batteries.  Between 7 and 11 November, however, they moved from Annequin to Gouzeaucourt and then on 21 November to Gonnelieu.  Gouzeaucourt is on the Hindenburg Line, some 17km south of Cambrai.  The battery was engaged in shelling enemy batteries at Bantouzelle.  The Battle of Cambrai saw astonishing allied gains on the opening few days, but the Germans mounted a forceful counterattack 10 days later and regained almost all the lost ground.

 

The German counterattack began on 30 November.  The War Diary gives a full account of what happened that day:

 

Shortly after cease-fire (they had been shelling Vaucelles), very heavy enemy fire was brought to bear on the LA VACQUERIE-GONNELLES road. Our guns were sited in the banks on this road and the barrage which lasted about half an hour inflicted a good number of casualties on the battery personnel.  A dug-out was hit, burying eight men.  Several others were wounded during the work of rescue.  The battery came into action again with two guns and fired as rapidly as possible on the main roads and tracks in BANTEUX and BANTOUZELLE.  By this time, the retreating infantry had passed the battery and shortly afterwards the first Bosche appeared, who suffered himself to be taken prisoner without much effort.  The battery remained in action for about another hour though much troubled by snipers and hostile parties who had to be dealt with by rifle fire.  At about 12 noon the main body of the enemy’s infantry occupied the GONNELIEU ridge and as the village of GONNELIEU had fallen and the battery positions offered a very poor field of view, a position was selected about 300 yards in the rear.  The dial sights and vent axials were removed from the guns and a party numbering 12 rifles occupied the selected position and for the next three or four hours engaged the enemy with rifle fire.  During the afternoon our infantry came up on either flank and an infantry post was established where the gunners were stationed.  Efforts were made to get in touch with headquarters and several runners were sent back in the direction of GOUZEAUCOURT but the guns were abandoned.  The dial sights and vent axials were brought back and left at HQRS.  Our casualties totalled 8 men killed, 14 wounded and 3 missing.  It has since been ascertained that one of the missing is a prisoner of war.

 

The man taken prisoner was Fred Brierley.  He was taken first to Minden where he remained until 14 December then to Münster (until 29 April 1918), then to Friedrichsfelde and finally to Stettin Prisoner of War camp (a total journey of about 1500km).  He died at Altdamm in No1 Ambulance Train on 6 May 1918.  He was buried at Altdamm.  These last two places are now in Poland close to the German border: Stettin is Szczecin and Altdamm is Dąbie.  There were three camps at Altdamm, holding a total of 15,000 prisoners, and several other prison camps in the area, but it would seem that Fred died in transit to this final camp.  According to Fred’s records, it seems the army learned of Fred’s death from a letter from Fred’s mother, which was later confirmed by the German authorities.  The cause of Fred’s death was not recorded.  He was 24 years old.

 

In 1922-23 it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died all over Germany should be brought together into four permanent cemeteries. Berlin South-Western was one of those chosen and in 1924-25, graves were brought into the cemetery from 146 burial grounds in eastern Germany, including Altdamm.  ALTDAMM PRISONERS OF WAR CEMETERY, 8 kilometres East of Stettin, in the Province of Pommern (Pomerania), contained the graves of 46 soldiers from the United Kingdom, three from Newfoundland and two from Canada, who died in 1915-1918.

 

Rank:  Lance Bombardier

Service No:  294337

Date of Death:  6 May 1918

Age:  24

Regiment/Service:  Royal Garrison Artillery, 144th Heavy Battery

Grave Reference: VII. G. 2.

Cemetery:  BERLIN SOUTH-WESTERN CEMETERY

 

Fred was a cousin of 3026 Pte. Arthur Brierley who was killed on 26 September 1917.  Fred had two brothers-in-law who also served; one was killed, the other lost a leg.

 

240496 CPL. W. WHATMOUGH. LANCS.FUS.

 

In 1910 Fred’s sister Clara was married to Walter Whatmough (b. 1891 in Littleborough).  Walter was a condenser piecer in a cotton spinning mill.  He enlisted with the Lancashire Fusiliers at the outbreak of war, was assigned service number 9374 and posted to 6Bn.  His service number was later changed to 240496.  According to his medal records, Walter was first with 1/6Bn who landed at Gallipoli on 5 May 1915.  They were in Gallipoli until 28 December when they were withdrawn first to Moudros then to Egypt.  During this time, Walter was promoted to Corporal.  The Bn went to the Western Front on 27 February 1917, although Walter may not have been with them then.  Walter also served in 12Bn.  12Bn was in Salonika from November 1915 to July 1918 when it moved to France and was absorbed by 1/6Bn, renamed 6Bn.  6Bn came under orders of 198th Brigade in 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division.   Walter was killed at the Battle of Cambrai on 8 October 1918.  He was 27 years old.

 

Rank:  Corporal

Service No:  240496

Date of Death:  8 October 1918

Age:  27

Regiment/Service:  Lancashire Fusiliers, 6Bn

Grave Reference: III. C. 17.

Cemetery:   BUSIGNY COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION

 

Another brother-in-law also served in the Army.  

 

In 1905, Fred’s sister Eleanor married John James Dalton (b. 1884 in Rochdale).  John was hairdresser.  The couple lived at 9 Spod Road, Spotland Bridge, Rochdale, and had two children: James (b. 1910) and Annie (b. 1912).

 

24653 PTE. J. J. DALTON. MANC.R.

 

John James Dalton first attested he was willing to serve in the army on 28 April 1915.  He was 5’ 3½” tall and weighed 120lbs.  He was assigned service number 19327 and posted to the Lancashire Fusiliers.  He had previously served in the Territorials and presumably on this basis he was promoted to Corporal, but on 8 May he was discharged on medical grounds – he was diagnosed as suffering from mitral valvular disease of the heart. Undaunted, John attested again, on 25 May 1915, and was assigned service number 24653 and posted to the Manchester Regiment.  He was again judged unlikely to become an efficient soldier and discharged just a week later on 1 June.  However, his discharge seems to have been overlooked or remitted as he continued to serve with the Manchester Regiment, in training from 25 May to 15 October 1915, then with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (i.e. Gallipoli) from 16 October 1915 to 2 July 1917, then on the Western Front, from 3 July 1916 to 22 October 1917, then at home from 23 October 1917 to 29 November 1918.  On this latter date, he was finally discharged from the army as no longer fit for war service, due to the amputation of his left leg.  But his record also states that ‘sentence of 12 months suspended on 1-9-17 is remitted’ – this entry is dated 26 May 1918.  There is no explanation of what the sentence was for, or why it was suspended and then remitted.  I have found no medal records for 24653 Pte John James Dalton, so exactly what happened to him remains a mystery.

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