BRIERLEYS IN WW1
2nd LT. V. BRIERLEY. M.C. R.LAN.R.
Vincent Brierley joined the clan when his mother married a Brierley after the early death of his father. His name at birth was Alexander William Vincent Barrass. He was born in April 1898 at Neville’s Cross, Co. Durham. His father was Alexander William Barrass (b. 1865 in Gateshead), an inn keeper. His mother was Isabella Greenwell (b. 1877 in Seaham, Co. Durham). Alexander and Isabella were married in 1897 and they had two children: Vincent and Mary (b. 1900). But Alexander died in 1900, when Vincent was just one year old and before Mary was born, and Isabella remarried about a year later. Her second husband was Edgar Bower Brierley (b. 1875 in Rochdale), a commercial traveller selling dry foodstuffs. They went on to have two children of their own: Annie Elizabeth (b. 1901) and John (b. 1904). It’s quite possible that Vincent and Mary didn’t know Edgar was actually their step-father – they were too young to have known any other father. The family moved around a bit in the first decade of the century but in 1911 they were settled in Manchester, at 24 Brookfield Road, Crumpsall. Vincent was 12 and still at school.
So when he enlisted on 3 September 1914, Vincent was still only 16. He declared his age as 19 and gives his occupation as gunsmith. He was 5’ 6½” tall and weighed 120lbs. He was assigned service number 13726 and posted to 7Bn East Lancashire Regiment. He landed in France with his Battalion on 18 July 1915. 7th (Service) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment came under orders of 56th Brigade in 19th(Western) Division. In 1915 they took part in supporting/diversionary action at Pietre during the Battle of Loos. During this time, and despite his youth, he was obviously proving himself to be an exceptional soldier as he was appointed Lance Corporal (unpaid) on 27 August 1915, the promotion being confirmed, and paid, three months later, and soon after that to Corporal.
In 1916, on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, 19th Division was initially in reserve west of Albert, but they were soon called into action and on 7 July 1916, Vincent was wounded in the legs by a bomb. He was evacuated to England for medical treatment and returned to the front on 15 November 1916. He rejoined his unit as they engaged in the Battle of the Ancre, the final phase of the Somme. But he didn’t stay with them long as he was posted to the Cadet Corps on 28 December 1916 and sent for Officer training to Balliol College, Oxford, on 7 February 1917, being commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant on 29 May 1917 (he had just turned 19). He was posted to 8th Battalion, the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). 8th Bn R.LAN.R. came under orders of 76th Brigade in 3rd Division.
Vincent was among the reinforcements and ‘new blood’ brought into the Battalion after the losses they suffered at Arras (9 April – 16 May 1917). Vincent arrived on 29 July 1917, as his Battalion was in the trenches near Frémicourt, south of Arras.
From the War Diary:
Battalion in front line trenches. T.M.s again busy during the early hours in the morning. About 3am three wounded men were brought down to Bn HQrs. The ??? patrol party of which they formed part having been fired at by an enemy patrol with rifle grenades and MGs. Two other men were killed. Three officers, reinforcements, reported to details: 2/Lieuts. Brierley, Davenport and Vallance.
The report for the next day gives a flavour of trench life at the time:
July 30. Battalion in front line trenches. Between 6.45 and 7am a large party of the enemy attempted to raid our left post (No29). They were just seen half left from the post crawling through the long grass in front of the wire. Eight of the party then rushed up to our wire and threw bombs, all of which fell short. Our Lewis Gun at once opened fire and four of them were seen to fall. The party then made off. At night a party was sent out to look for the dead Hun (crossed out) Germans, but owing to the tall grass their search was unsuccessful until the following night when two men were found. Trench mortars were active during the early morning and at night on our left. The remainder of the day was quiet.
They were relieved the following day and returned to camp at Frémicourt. They remained here and Barastre (about 5km away) in and out of the trenches until 17 September, when they moved to Watou, 100km north, on the border between France and Belgium, and west of Ypres. They moved on to Brandhoek on 23rd and into the line on 25th. 2/Lt. Brierley (he is recorded in the War Diary as Lieutenant) was the Bombing Officer for the Bn as they went into action at Hannebeek Wood, near Frezenberg. The attack was successful, and on 27 September, 2/Lt Brierley was in charge of the ration party to the front line. On 29 September, as the Bn was preparing to return to camp, they were shelled by gas and 2/Lt Davenport, who had arrived with Vincent two months earlier, was one of the casualties (although wounded, he survived). After this successful operation, the Bn spent a few days in camp near Ypres then on 6 October they returned to Barastre to the same camp they had left on 17 September. During October they spent time in the trenches at Bullecourt, but the fighting is light. They spent the remainder of the year between trenches at Bullecourt and camp at Mory, the fighting becoming intense in December (they were on the periphery of the fighting at Cambrai).
January 1918 finds the Battalion camped at Hendecourt, south-east of Arras. They spent the month in training and at rest. At the end of the month, they returned to the trenches at Guémappe and camp at Wancourt, but the action is light. They remained there throughout February. In March, they moved to camp at Beurains, just outside Arras, and in mid-March they were back in the trenches at Guémappe. When the German Spring Offensive was launched on 21 March, the Bn headquarters at Wancourt had to be moved due to heavy shelling with gas and high explosive shells. The Bn formed part of the third line defences but they nevertheless came under heavy and sustained attack. They were located in the northern part of the German attack zone, just south of Arras, which was one of the two main objectives for the Germans (the other being Amiens).
The War Diary entry for 28 March 1918:
Wancourt. At 3am a heavy enemy bombardment of the back areas opened. At 4am the front and support lines were shelled with Heavy Trench Mortars and later with 5.9s (this is the British term for the 15cm German heavy field howitzer). Reports were received from the Front line Coys. up to about 7am that their lines were intact, although the right Bn of the 15th Division was seen from Bn HQ to withdraw from the front and support lines. Shortly after this it was found that the left Battalion of the Brigade on our right was also withdrawing. The enemy by this time had managed to work round the flanks of the two Coys. into the Sunken Road behind WANCOURT. Finding it was impossible to hold the front line any longer the two Coys. succeeded in fighting their way back to the support line. At about 10am the situation became so unsure that I decided to work along the line of the front held by us and found that owing to a number of Northumberland Fusiliers having joined up with the King’s Own, the trenches had become very congested. The enemy by this time was again enveloping our right flank, so I thinned out the men and formed a defensive flank on the line of an old C.T. (communication trench). The officers in charge of this flank were 2/Lts ALLISON and BRIERLEY. On my return, I reported to Lt. Col. A. J. S. James MC, and he decided to send some men to the line of the Sunken Road running N.N.W from Bn HQ. Having disposed this party, I left Capt. V. C. Russell, 2nd Suffolk Regt. in charge and returned to Bn HQ. Shortly afterwards about noon Lt. Col JAMES was hit by a shell and killed instantly, the enemy having opened a most accurate and persistent shell fire on the Bn HQ trench. At 1pm the right flank under Capt. C. V. Fold withdrew to the line of the bivouacs north of Bn HQ, a further block being established at this point. As the left flanks of the 2nd Suffolks was also ??? about this time (1pm), I decided to allow my men to withdraw in Sixes over the open to the NEUVILLE VITASSE Switch, this withdrawal being covered by Lewis Gun and rifle fire ad bombing. The withdrawal was carried out successfully with very few casualties, the rear parties also managing to get away in spite of the close proximity of the enemy. The King’s Own Officer in charge of this party covering the withdrawal was 2/Lt ADAMS. On arrival at the Green Line the men of the 8th The King’s Own were placed on the right of the Brigade between the centre of the valley and the village of NEUVILLE VITASSE inclusive. Later the O.C. the 1st Gordon Hdrs., informed me that the Switch was too lightly held and that he was not in touch with the 9th Brigade on our right so I placed the majority of my men in the NEUVILLE VITASSE Switch in front of the village in touch with the 9th Brigade. At about 2pm orders were given to withdraw to the GREEN Line to conform with the Brigade on our left. At about 4.30pm the enemy opened terrific barrage fire on NEUVILLE VITASSE village rendering the position there absolutely untenable so that orders were given for the men of the 8th The King’s Own and 1st Gordon Hdrs to move to the left and the Brigade was reformed, with the King’s Own on the Right, Gordon Hdrs. centre and 2nd Suffolk Regt. on the Left, a line of Posts being established by the King’s Own just WEST of the village. Repeated efforts were made to establish touch with the 9th Brigade but only an Officer Patrol was able to do so. Orders were received about 9pm for the Battalion to withdraw to the old enemy Trench system. This was done with the exception of 45 men under Capt. FORD who remained to man the right flank line of shell holes to the West of NEUVILLE VITASSE, two Bombing Blocks also being held by the King’s Own in the front and support lines immediately North of the village.
The enemy continued heavy bombing, rifle and machine gun fire throughout the following morning, but failed to break through. The Battalion was relieved on the evening of 29 March and went to billets at Rivière. They had suffered casualties of 16 officers and 480 other ranks. Neuville Vitasse is just 6km from the centre of Arras; that is how close the Germans got. Having failed to break through and take Arras, the German military command called off this phase of the Spring Offensive.
8Bn barely had time to breathe before they were back on the move. The Germans now attempted to break through further north, south of Ypres, and on 11 April, the Battalion was moved to Gonnehem and then to Hinges (see map, bottom left hand corner). Their job for the next 4 days was to defend a drawbridge over the Canal d’Aire at Avelette, which they achieved, with casualties of one officer and 155 other ranks. This prevented the Germans advancing on Béthune, and on April 29 the Germans called the operation off.
On 5 May 1918, just after being relieved from a period in the trenches at Chocques, Vincent and some fellow officers received the news that they had been awarded the Military Cross for their part in the action at Wancourt on 28 March. The War Diary notes this and indicates his rank as a/Capt (acting Captain).
Citation for the Military Cross.
T./2nd Lt. Vincent Brierley, R. Lan. R. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He took charge of the company when his C.O. was killed, and although the right flank was turned, and the enemy behind him, held on to the front line, eventually withdrawing to the support line, where he offered a desperate resistance. Later, he took up another position with the survivors of his company and rendered valuable assistance on the right of the brigade.
(London Gazette, 23 July 1918, p. 8780).
In June, after a skirmish on the canal bank in the first week, the Battalion spent the rest of the month in reserve or support lines and defending the canal. The entry for 17 June says that Vincent (Capt. V. Brierley) was evacuated from Field Ambulance, but I think this is a typo, he was evacuated to the Field Ambulance, probably suffering from P.U.O. which was prevalent at the time.
He returned from the Field Ambulance (still bearing rank of Captain) on 30 July.
The Battalion remained at Chocques until mid-August. On 14 August, they first marched to Pernes, then entrained for Warlincourt and then marched to billets at Beaudricourt. On 21 August, they moved to the front line at Courcelles and were placed under orders of 8th Brigade for an attack on a railway embankment. In the opening attack they had 12 Other Ranks killed and 80 wounded but took 30 prisoners and captured 30 machine guns. They had a day to recover and then on 23 August they attacked Gomiécourt.
All objectives taken and consolidated. Captives 300 prisoners, 2 5.9 howitzers and 3 Field guns, 70 machine guns, 2 Heavy trench mortars. Casualties: Capt. (illegible) wounded. Lt. T. W. Brown, wounded, Lt. G. P. Burns, wounded. 2/Lt V. Brierley, wounded. 2/Lt F. O’Ryan, wounded. Lt. H. H. Backhouse, killed. 6 O.R.s killed. 24 O.R.s wounded.
This action was part of the Third Battle of Albert (21-23 August 1918). On 8 August, the Allies had launched the Offensive (later called the 100 Days’ Offensive) which would push back the Germans and eventually lead to the Armistice and the end of the War.
Vincent was evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station at Gézaincourt where he died, still only 20 years old. Francis O’Ryan, listed as wounded in the War Diary, also died that day. He was 21. Lt. Horace Backhouse M.C. was 33. For 21-23 August 1918, CWGC finally records 3 officers and 39 other ranks from 8Bn dead. 9 of the men have no age recorded, but of the remaining 33, 23 were 21 or under and had pre-1917 service numbers, meaning they were all under age when they enlisted.
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Date of Death: 23 August 1918
Regiment/Service: King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), 8th Bn.
Award: Military Cross
Cemetery/memorial reference: IV. D. 9.
Cemetery: BAGNEUX BRITISH CEMETERY, GEZAINCOURT
Additional Information: Son of Alexander William and Isabella Barrass Brierley, of 24 Brookfield Road, Higher Crumpsall, Manchester. Born at Neville's Cross, Durham. Enlisted in the 7th Bn. East Lancashire Regt., 3rd Sept., 1914.