BRIERLEYS IN WW1
35948 PTE. G. C. BRIERLEY. SHER. FOR.
40277 PTE. F. BRIERLEY. N. STAFF. R.
George Cyril Brierley and Fred Brierley were brothers. Their father was Edwin John Brierley (b. 1858 in Beeston, Nottinghamshire), according to the 1911 Census a ‘collector and canvasser of sewing machines’. Edwin married in 1881 to Jane Archer Kirk (b. 1859 in Radford, Notts.). Edwin and Jane had 9 children, 7 of whom survived infancy: Wallace Edwin (b. 1881), Leonard (b. 1885), Gertrude (b. 1888), Frank Archer (b. 1892), George Cyril (b. 1895), Fred (b. 1898) and finally Dorothy Agnes (b. 1900). Most of the family worked in sectors of the drapery industry, in 1911, George was a lace warehouseman, and Fred was still at school. The family was living at 23 Highbury Avenue, Bulwell, Nottingham.
George was born in December 1895 and he attested on 11 December 1915, just after his 20th birthday. He was 5’ 10” tall, weighed 127lbs and had a 34” chest. At the time he attested he was working as a credit draper’s traveller. He was assigned service number 35948 and posted to 17 Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment). 17th (Service) Battalion (Welbeck Rangers) were formed at Nottingham on 1 June 1915 by the Mayor and a Recruiting Committee. In October 1915 they moved to Aldershot and came under orders of 117th Brigade in 39th Division. They moved to Witley in November 1915 and landed in France on 6 March 1916. George was called up on 18 February 1916 and after initial training he joined his Battalion in the field on 19 July 1916. George arrived just after the Division had been engaged in heavy fighting at Richbourg L’Avoué, but he was then involved in the fighting on The Somme at Thiepval Ridge and the Battle of the Ancre. On 1-3 September, the Bn was in the trenches at Bertrancourt and suffered severe losses: 15 officers and 436 other ranks were reported in the War Diary as casualties. In fact, in the final count, during this action, 17Bn had 148 officers and men killed. George survived this action and seems to have made a good impression as later in September 1916 he was promoted first to Lance Corporal, then to Corporal. By the end of the Battle of the Somme in November 1916, the Bn was in the trenches near Senlis. They were then withdrawn to billets at Tetinghem. In January and early February, the Bn was in and out of the trenches near Wieltje, north-east of Ypres. Things did not go well at this time for George. On 7 February 1917, he was arrested and charged with ‘when on active service, neglect to the prejudice of good order and military discipline’. He was brought before a Field General Court Martial on 13 February, found guilty and sentenced to be reduced to the ranks. At that time, they were at Ypres, and there is nothing in the War Diary to indicate any further details. The Bn was in training for the rest of the month, returning to the trenches on 27 February.
The Bn was then in training or in the trenches throughout the Spring and early Summer, in preparation for the assault planned for the end of July. On 31 July the Bn was engaged in the successful assault on Pilckem Ridge which opened the Third Battle of Ypres. Many men were wounded that day but only one officer and 16 other ranks from the Bn were killed. The War Diarist says “Yesterday (ie 31 July) we carried all before us, it was one of the Battalion’s greatest days since its formation. We penetrated the enemy’s defences which he had held for over two years to a depth of 2 miles”.
The Battalion spent much of August in training, though the rain made conditions for fighting impossible. In September, they were in camp near Steenvoorde then Bois de Beauvoorde and on 13 September they returned to the trenches to play their part in the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge. George was killed in action on 20 September 1917. He was 21 years old. 31 officers and men from his Battalion were also killed on the same day. George’s brother Fred was among troops sent to relieve those who had fought in the opening assault.
Service No: 35948
Date of Death: 20/09/1917
Regiment/Service: Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), "D" Coy. 17th Bn. (The original CWGC record shows George as being in 16th Bn but all other records show 17th.)
Panel Reference: Panel 99 to 102 and 162 to 162A.
Memorial: TYNE COT MEMORIAL
Additional Information: Son of Edwin and Jane Brierley, of 23 Highbury Avenue, Bulwell, Nottingham.
Fred Brierley was born in the third quarter of 1898, so would have become eligible for military service in late 1916. Given he has an old-style service number, it seems likely he enlisted in the autumn. He was posted to 2/6Bn of The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment) and assigned service number 40277. Unfortunately, his attestation records have not survived so we have less information about Fred than about George. 2/6Bn came under orders of 176th Brigade in 59th (2nd North Midlands) Division and they landed at Le Havre on 25 February 1917, so it seems likely that that was when Fred began his service overseas.
The Division’s first action was in cautious pursuit as the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line (April 1917). Their lack of training began to be felt in this difficult tactical situation. Units of the Division captured Jeancourt but met a bloody repulse at Le Verguier. Divisional HQ was established at Bouvincourt in April 1917. Further attacks took place at Villeret and Hargicourt quarries. In May 1917, the Division was relieved by the cavalry but after a matter of days moved back into the Cambrai front line at Havrincourt and Flesquières, Divisional HQ being set up at to Equancourt. They were relieved in June 1917 and moved for rest at Barastre. They spent a lengthy spell here, in training for the Flanders offensive. They received orders to move in late August and proceeded by train from Acheux to Winnezeele, arriving on 1 September.
When Fred’s brother George was killed on 20 September, they were within a few miles of each other though neither brother would have know the other’s whereabouts. That day, 59th Division’s role was to relieve the 55th (West Lancashire) Division after it had made an attack in the area of Gravenstafel. The Lancashires succeeded in capturing all objectives and the 59th duly moved to relieve them. Assembling around Goldfish Chateau, just outside Ypres, the Division moved up into the salient on the night of 23/24 September and completed the move into battle positions during 25 and 26th.
The Division attacked as part of the British force that made an assault at Polygon Wood early on 26 September. Using 177th and 178th Brigades in front, the Division captured all of its objectives and then held on against German counter attack. Divisional HQ, finding its canal position to be very near some heavy artillery, moved back a way to Mersey Camp Wood but were there bombed by enemy aircraft at night. The Division had suffered 2000 casualties while in the salient and was relieved on 29 September by the New Zealand Division.
The Division was engaged on the fringes of the Cambrai operations in November and December 1917 but then after a long period of rest and training, the Division took over the front line at Bullecourt on 11 February 1918, with HQ being established at Béhagnies, south of Arras. Much work was done on strengthening the line for defence against an expected enemy attack.
The attack came with the launch of the German Spring Offensive on 21 March. After the Division had suffered heavy casualties from German shellfire, the enemy infantry succeeded in breaking through the Division’s position where it met that of 6th Division in the valley of the River Hirondelle. Parties held on and continued to resist but were gradually destroyed and “mopped up”. Fewer than 100 men of the 176th (Fred’s Brigade) and 178th Brigades which had been holding the front line before the attack were assembled at roll call. Two battalion commanding officers were killed in action. At 7pm, the Division was officially relieved but 177th Brigade and various parties of ancillary units remained to take part in the continued defence. Fred was killed in this attack. He was 19 years old. 2/5 and 2/6 Bns (in 176th Brigade) had 200 officers and men killed that day.
Service No: 40277
Date of Death: 21/03/1918
Regiment/Service: North Staffordshire Regiment, 2nd/6th Bn.
Panel Reference: Bay 7 and 8.
Memorial: ARRAS MEMORIAL