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James Brierley was born in the last quarter of 1890 on Oldham.  His father was George Fletcher Brierley (b. 1864 in Oldham), an iron spindle grinder in the textile industry.  His mother was Mary Harriet Binns (b. 1867 in Oldham).  George and Mary were married in Saddleworth in 1888 and over the next few years the family flitted between the two towns.  They had 8 children, 6 of whom survived infancy: Emily (b. 1888), then James, Joseph Binns (b. 1895), Edith (b.1898), Hilda (1900-1903), Mally (b. 1903) and John (b. 1906).  In 1911, the family was living at Quick Edge, Grotton, near Springfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire, about 3 miles east of Oldham.  James who was then 20 was a piecer in a cotton mill.


James enlisted at Springhead in 1915 with the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own).  He was assigned service number 711 and posted to 21st Battalion.  21st (Service) Battalion (Wool Textile Pioneers) was formed in Halifax on 24 September 1915 by the Lord Mayor and City of Leeds and moved to Skipton in February 1916.  They moved to France in June 1916 where they came under orders of 4th Division as Pioneer Battalion.  4th Division fought on the Somme at the Battles of Albert and Le Transloy.  On 1 July 1916, 4thDivision was in the line close to Beaumont Hamel.


In the Spring of 1917, the Division was engaged in the Battle of Arras, specifically the First Battle of the Scarpe (9-14 April) and the Third Battle of the Scarpe (3-4 May).  On 3-4 May, various Battalions of the Prince of Wales’s had more than 600 officers and men killed.


On 1 April 1917, 21 Battalion reported its strength as 38 Officers and 981 other ranks.  They were working under XVII Corps at Étrun, Ste Cathérine and St Nicolas, near Arras, preparing roads and tramways for the forthcoming advance.  After the initial successful attack on 9 April, the Pioneers were able to continue their work with ‘very little interference from the enemy’s guns’.  They suffered relatively light casualties with one man killed and a small number wounded.  On 20 April they were relieved by 1/8 Royal Scots and after 6 weeks’ work with XVII Corps they returned to 4th Division and went into billets at Habarcq to rest.  They returned to the field on 30 April and were engaged in digging new trenches near Fampoux and had one man killed and 10 wounded.  When the next phase of the battle commenced on 3 May the Pioneers were at St Laurent Blangy and the War Diary reports ‘continuous fighting all day with little result’.  The Pioneers’ task is to dig new trenches and deepen existing front line trenches.  Their camp was shelled on the night of 4 May but they continued to work throughout the night.  On 5 May, B, C and D companies were working in front line trenches and D Company was heavily shelled, with one officer and 6 men killed and a further 20 wounded.  It’s likely that James Brierley was among those killed, as the diary for the following day (the date CWGC records for James’ death) reports no casualties.  He was 26 years old (not 27 as recorded by CWGC).


At the end of the month, the Battalion strength is recorded as 35 officers and 800 other ranks, so in the months of April-May 1917, they had 3 officers and 181 other ranks killed or wounded.

Rank:  Private

Service No:  21/711

Date of Death:  06/05/1917

Age:  26

Regiment/Service:  West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), 21st Bn.

Grave Reference:  I. J. 4.


Additional Information:  Son of George Fletcher Brierley, of 10 Under Lane, Grotton, Oldham.


James’ brother Joseph served in the Army Cyclist Corps.  He was 10457 PTE. J. B. BRIERLEY, serving with XIIth C.C.B.  It appears that XIIth Corps Cyclist Battalion was attached to 26th Division which was engaged from 1916-1918 in Salonika.  Joseph survived the War and died in 1950.


James’ uncle is 27206 PTE. H. BRIERLEY. L.N.LAN.R. who died on 29 November 1917, so the family lost two members in a short space of time.

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