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From SDGW, Medal records and Soldiers’ Effects we know that William Brierley was born in Burnley, enlisted originally on 9 May 1899, and he was married to Mary Alice.  He landed in France on 22 August 1914 and was killed in action at Ploegsteert on 7 November 1914.  From this basic information I have been able to trace him in the Censuses.  William (Alfred) Brierley was born on 26 October 1882 in Burnley.  His father was Charles Brierley (b. 1858 in Burnley), a cotton weaver.  His mother was Maria Williamson (b. 1860 in Burnley).  Charles and Maria were married in 1881 and they had 7 children:  Joseph Henry (b. 1881), then William, then Rachel (b. 1885), Elizabeth Ann (b. 1886), Lucy Maud (b. 1891), Fred (b. 1893), and Herbert Arthur (b. 1894).  Charles died in 1896 and Maria had another daughter Dora (b. 1900) whose father was William Price.


William first enlisted in the army in 1899 aged 16.  He may have served in the Boer War and possibly in India.  In 1911, having served his time, he married Mary Alice Jones, in Burnley.  Mary Alice was born in 1885 in Bury.  In 1911, just after they were married, the couple were living with Mary Alice’s parents at 10 Pendle View, Higham, Burnley.  William was a cotton weaver and Mary Alice a cotton winder.  In 1913 the couple had a son, Richard Edward.  William re-enlisted in 1914, joining the East Lancashire Regiment, and was assigned service number 5934.   Given his previous military service, William was promoted to Lance Corporal.  He served with 1st Battalion, which came under the orders of 11th Brigade in 4th Division.  This Division fought in the Battle of the Marne then the Battle of the Aisne and in October at the Battle of Messines (12 October-2 November 1914).  This battle was part of the Race to the Sea, the series of battles that decided the line of the western front. In the aftermath of the first battle of the Marne, it was decided to move the BEF back north to Flanders, to shorten its supply lines back to the channel ports. The Battle of Messines was the official name for the fighting between the river Douve and the Comines-Ypres canal, but it merged into the battle of Armentières to the south and the first battle of Ypres to the north.  William was killed in action on 7 November 1914 at Ploegsteert, a few miles north of Armentières.  William was 31 years old.


The War Diary reports that the Battalion occupied a German trench ‘with slight loss’.  Capt. Crane was killed along with 2 sergeants, one corporal, Lance Corporal Brierley and 7 other ranks.


British casualties in the fighting between 14 October and 30 November were 58,155 (7,960 dead, 29,562 wounded and 17,873 missing). It is often said that the pre-war professional army died at the first battle of Ypres. The army had arrived in France with 84,000 infantry. By the end of the battle of Ypres, the BEF had suffered 86,237 casualties, most to that infantry.  The French suffered around 50,000 casualties during the battle.  The fighting at Ypres played a major role in forming a bond between the British and French armies. The two armies had fought side by side around Ypres in a way they had not in the earlier battles of the war.


German casualties are more difficult to assess. The German official history of the war divides the fighting around Ypres and the Yser into a different set of three battles (Lille, 15-28 October, The Yser, 18 October-30 November and Ypres, 30 October-24 November), covering different sections of the front. The total German casualties during all three battles were calculated as 134,315 (19,530 dead, 83520 wounded and 31265 missing). This figure includes 75,000 casualties suffered in what the Germans called the battle of the Yser, which covered the fighting from Gheluvelt to the sea. Many of the German casualties at Ypres were suffered by the volunteer corps raised at the outbreak of the war. Amongst these volunteers were a large number of university students, exempt from the draft during their period of study. 25,000 of these student volunteers were killed at Ypres, their enthusiasm unable to make up for their lack of experience. The battle would later be known as the “Kindermord bei Ypern”, the “massacre of the innocents at Ypres”.

Rickard, J (26 August 2007), Battle of Messines, 12 October-2 November 1914,


Rank:  Lance Corporal

Service No:  5934

Date of Death:  07/11/1914

Regiment/Service:  East Lancashire Regiment, 1st Bn.

Panel Reference:  Panel 5 and 6.



William’s brother, Herbert Arthur Brierley, also joined the Army.  He attested he was willing to serve with the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) in December 1915 and was assigned service number 52293.  He was mobilised in April 1916 but he appears not to have served abroad.  It appears from his medical reports that he had a weak heart and bad eyesight.  He was not discharged but he was posted to work in munitions in a factory in Lostock, near Bolton.  He was discharged in January 1919.  He died in 1979.


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