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478508 PTE. J. BRIERLEY. C.E.F.

443783 PTE. H. BRIERLEY. C.E.F.


John and Henry Brierley were brothers, born in Euxton, near Chorley, Lancashire.  Between 1903 and 1911, they and most of their family emigrated to Canada.  John appears in the earlier Censuses as Mathew Jno but after his move to Canada he was called John, so we’ll stick with that.  He was born on 12 April 1881 when the family was living at Balshaw Lane, Euxton (next door to the Talbot Arms).  Henry was born on 26 June 1886 in Euxton.  Their father was Thomas Brierley (b. 1854 in Brindle).  Tom was originally a farm labourer, but with the expansion of mining in the area, by 1891 he was working down the pit as a miner.  Their mother was Martha Smith (b. 1857 in Chorley).  Tom and Martha were married in Chorley in 1876 and they had 9 children: Thomas (b. 1878), Joseph (b. 1879), then Matthew John (later just John), Jane (b. 1883), William (b. 1884), then Henry, then James (b.1890), Robert (b. 1891) and finally Ruth (b.1893).


In 1891, Thomas, Martha, Thomas, (no Joseph), Matthew Jo., Jane, William, Henry, and James were living in Standish in houses built by a local coal mine – the Wigan Coal and Iron Company; Thomas (snr) is a coalminer, and Thomas (jnr, aged 13) is his drawer.  In 1901, Thomas, Martha, (no Thomas – he is possibly in the army), Joseph, Matthew John, Jane, William, Henry, James, Robert, and Ruth live at 74 Lily Lane, between Platt Bridge and Abram, south of Wigan.  John, aged 20, is a coal miner’s drawer and Henry, aged 14, is a colliery pony driver, both working underground.  All the working men in the family work down the coal mine.  It was soon after this that the family began to emigrate to Canada.


In 1903, Joseph emigrated to Nova Scotia.  Coal had been mined in Nova Scotia since the 1780s but had become a much larger scale operation in the late 1880s.  The year Joseph arrived, 1903, the Dominion Coal Company produced 3.25 million tons of coal from its 16 mines in the Cape Breton area – where Joseph settled.  In 1904, Henry and John emigrated; John stayed in Nova Scotia with his brother, but Henry went on to British Columbia.  Coal mining in BC commenced on Northern Vancouver Island in the mid 19thCentury, soon moving south to the Nanaimo coalfields where underground mining continued until the 1960s. With the development of the railways, underground coal mining began in southeastern BC in the late 1800s, so the Brierleys’ skills and experience of underground coal mining would have been in heavy demand.


Martha died in 1904, and in 1906, Thomas jnr emigrated to join Henry in British Columbia.  Then finally in 1910, Thomas (snr) and youngest daughter Ruth moved to Canada and according to the Census the following year they were living with Joseph at New Aberdeen, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.  Joe had married Margaret Culshaw back in England and they had two children: Mary Agnes, who was born in England (1903), and Joseph who was born in Canada (1905).   Margaret died not long after the birth of her son, and probably in 1910, Joe remarried, his second wife was Louise (maiden name not known).  She was only 19, she was born in England in 1891, and arrived in Canada in 1906.  Also in the house are Thomas (Joe’s father), who is not working; John (previously Matthew), working as a miner; and Ruth.


So when War broke out, John was in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, and Thomas and Henry were in Vernon, British Columbia.


Thomas and Henry both enlisted in the army in Vernon, BC, on 20 August 1915.  Henry was given service number 443783 and Tom was 443784.  Tom, remember, had arrived in Canada in 1906, two years after his younger brother.  He had served “nearly four years” in the Lancashire Fusiliers.  He was 37 when he enlisted.  He served alongside his brother and survived the War.  We will return to these brothers in a moment.


478508 PTE. J. BRIERLEY. R.C.R.


John Brierley served in the Royal Canadian Regiment and was killed in action on 16 September 1916, in the Courcelette sector of the Somme.  When John enlisted at Sydney, Nova Scotia, on 17 September 1915 he was living with his brother, Joseph, in Glace Bay, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  At the time, he was already enlisted as a territorial with the 94th Victoria Regiment “Argyll Highlanders”.  He was 5’ 7” tall; he had a 37½” chest and weighed 150lbs.

Shortly after the begin­ning of the war, the RCR was sent to garrison the island of Bermuda thus per­mit­ting a British reg­i­ment to be sent to the front. After 13 months in Bermuda, the Reg­i­ment returned to Hal­i­fax NS and soon there­after sailed for Eng­land. The RCR arrived at the West­ern Front in Novem­ber 1915 as part of the newly formed 3rd Cana­dian Division.  John was sent out to join the Regiment in France, where he arrived on 26 March 1916.  


In June 1916, the Regiment’s first engagement was at Mount Sorrel (2-13 June).  After that, they fought on the Somme and it was during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette that John was killed on 16 September 1916 as his Regiment advanced towards Courcelette.  John was shot and his body was not recovered.  He was 35 years old.  That day, one officer and 54 men from the RCR were killed and only 9 bodies were recovered.


Rank:  Private

Service No:  478508

Date of Death:  16/09/1916

Age:  35

Regiment/Service:  Royal Canadian Regiment


443783 PTE. H. BRIERLEY. C.E.F.


Henry was 29 years old when he enlisted with the 54th Canadian Infantry Battalion on 20 August 1915.  He was 5’ 4½” tall, but he had a 39” chest with a 5” range of expansion – so he was short but powerfully built.  54Bn began recruiting in May 1915.  It was mobilized in Vernon and recruited in rural areas of British Columbia.  “The original home of the Battalion – Nelson – is set in the midst of the grandest scenery – mountains (Rockies, Selkirks and Cascades), lakes (Kootenay and Arrow), forests and beautiful farming lands, all being visible or within easy distance.  The main industries of this part being lumbering, mining, prospecting and farming, it stands to reason that the men of the Battalion were remarkable for their physique and personal vigour.” (from a regimental history).

Two drafts consisting of a total of 5 officers and 250 men were sent to England on 21 July and 23 October 1915. The battalion itself embarked at Halifax on 22 November 1915 aboard Saxonia, disembarking in England on 30 November 1915.  Its strength was 36 officers and 1111 other ranks.  The RMS Saxonia was a former Cunard cruise liner, requisitioned by the government in August 1914.  She had spent some time tied up on the Thames acting as an accommodation ship for German prisoners of war, but she had resumed service as a troopship in March 1915.  The sailing list for 54Bn on the Saxonia shows Henry and Thomas were both aboard.

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The battalion spent the spring and early summer of 1916 in England and during this time Henry went back to Wigan where he was married in March 1916 to Lavinia Benson (b. 1888 in Wigan).  Lavinia’s family were coal miners and they lived in Abram, near Wigan, which is where Henry’s brother James was living.  In fact, in 1911, James was living at 8 Warrington Road, Abram, and the Bensons were living next door at no. 6.  So Henry and Lavinia were probably childhood sweethearts.


Henry and Lavinia would not have had much time together though as he was soon back to training and on 13 August 1916, 54th Battalion landed in France, becoming part of the 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade in the 4th Canadian Division.  Their first major engagement was on the Somme, during the Battle of the Ancre, on 18 November 1916.  Sjt Alec Jack of 54Bn records:


“Following our initiation in the Ypres Salient, where we did four weeks of duty in the trenches, the 54th Battalion got orders to proceed by route march to Albert in the Somme area. We marched (about 140km) because there was no motor transport for infantry in those days, and the baggage and field kitchens were hauled by horses and mules.

"In the Somme fighting we of the 4th Canadian Division joined the rest of the Canadian Corps who had preceded us from the Ypres Salient under General Sir Julian Byng, later Governor General of Canada. The 54th Battalion did four holding tours of duty in the line under pretty tough conditions and then on November 13 we moved up to the line again preparatory to the attack on Desire Trench. Tramping the miles up the Albert-Bapaume Road from Albert of the Leaning Virgin (a reference to a church tower statue that hung precariously from its spire due to shell fire.  Allied soldiers and locals thought as long as the Virgin did not fall they would win the war.  Allied engineers even secured the statue to keep it in place.), to the sunken road near Courcelette (where Henry’s brother John was killed just two months earlier) then across country in the dark, traversing Death valley of evil memory, and so on through the mud, laden with equipment, machine guns and ammunition, we eventually arrived in the line and took over from our predecessors who then departed for the back country without regret.

"For reasons unknown to us, the attack was postponed day after day while the rain descended and the sides of the trenches slid in and the mud got deeper. There were no dug-outs nor other shelters and so everybody had to stick it out for the five days and nights in the utmost misery. Then on November 18 at dawn our creeping barrage and bombardment started and officers and men of the 54th climbed out of their ditches and assembly trenches, where they had been lined up, and went forward in extended order and in four lines about 25 yards apart. The weather was bad, snow falling all morning. I recollect noticing that one of our 18 pounders firing in the creeping barrage was falling short and I saw several men fall as a result of this.

"We didn’t have a great deal of trouble with the Germans except for snipers who caused a lot of casualties. All officers in our company were killed or wounded and the senior Sergeant took charge.  (This Serjeant was the narrator, Alec Jack. Captain King, one of the officers killed, was shot through the head while standing beside Alec!). We advanced some distance past Desire Trench— our objective– and dug in on a new line, hoping that the German artillery would not have our range. Two half-hearted German counter attacks were broken up by our Lewis Gun fire and we had little to worry about, apart from snipers and the weather. The Battalion lost 12 officers and 200 men in this action. (The Battalion went into the operation with about 900 men)."

In 1917, the Canadian 4th Division was very successful at Vimy Ridge (9-12 April) (part of the Battle of Arras).  . Advancing behind a creeping barrage and making heavy use of machine guns – eighty to each brigade, including one Lewis gun in each platoon – the corps was able to advance through about 4,000 yards (3,700 m) of German defences and captured the crest of the ridge at about 13:00.  Military historians have attributed the success of this attack to careful planning by Canadian Corps commander Julian Byng and his subordinate General Arthur Currie, constant training and the assignment of specific objectives to each platoon. By giving units specific goals, troops could continue the attack even if their officers were killed or communication broke down, thus bypassing two major problems of combat on the Western Front. The Canadian troops could see the Germans in retreat across the Douai Plain away from the ridge. Nevertheless, inflexibility in the plan prevented the leading troops from continuing the advance and on 10 April the Germans began to stop the gaps with reserves.  


Later that year, the Canadian Corps was engaged at the Battle of Hill 70 (15-25 August), which was an operation around Lens in the Pas de Calais, as an attempt to draw German troops away from the 3rd Battle of Ypres.  The battle was costly for both sides and many casualties were caused by the extensive use of poison gas, including the new mustard gas blistering agent.  54Bn was also engaged in the Second Battle of Passchendaele and the capture of the village, but was initially in divisional reserve.


In 1918, the Canadian Divisions were not engaged in the army restructuring taking place in the British Divisions, and they were not involved in the German Spring Offensive.  4th Division (and 54th Brigade) played a full role, however, in the 100 Days’ Offensive, from the Battle of Amiens (8 August), to Drocourt-Quéant (2 September), the Canal du Nord and Bourlon Wood (27 September – 1 October), Valenciennes (1-2 November) and finally the Battle of the Sambre (4 November), where the Germans mounted their final stout but haphazard defence.


After the Armistice, the Division was not required for the advance into Germany and 54Bn returned to England on 29 April 1919, disembarked in Canada on 6 June 1919, was demobilized on 12 June 1919, and was disbanded by General Order 149 of 15 September 1920.  Tom Brierley went back to British Columbia, where in 1920 he married Alice (surname unknown) who had arrived in Canada the previous year, and in 1921 Thomas and Alice were registered as living in North Wellington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  


Henry, however, went back to his wife in Wigan.  He died there on 19 September 1919 and is buried at Abram, St John’s.  He was 33 years old.  According to his death certificate, Henry was a ‘coal miner – ex-army’, and he died of cardiac failure following lobar pneumonia.  These conditions may or may not have been exacerbated by his military service.


Rank:  Private

Service No:  443783

Date of Death:  19/09/1919

Age:  33

Regiment/Service:  Canadian Infantry, 54Bn



Henry’s place of rest is slightly odd as the Brierley family were Roman Catholics but St John the Evangelist at Abram is Church of England.  Henry’s wife Lavinia was CofE, and in fact she remarried in the same church two years later.  Her second husband was Richard Hurst (b. 1889 in Wigan).  In 1911, Richard was a colliery labourer (underground).  In 1914, when he was a coke oven foreman, he was involved in an accident where he had his fingers broken.  I don’t know if Richard served during the War, but he died in 1930.  Lavinia died in 1944.


The Brierley family (from Euxton/Standish/Wigan) and their Canadian connections:


Henry and John died almost exactly 3 years apart.


Oldest brother Tom Brierley served alongside Henry and survived.


I have found no attestation papers for Joseph Brierley and I presume he did not enlist.  After the War he moved to Montreal.  


Jane Brierley married Thomas Pickup in Wigan in 1905.  They had a son in England before moving to Nova Scotia in 1906, where they had a second child, and then they moved on to British Columbia.  There they had a further 10 children before Jane died, aged still only 39, in 1922.  Tom Pickup attested he was willing to serve in the Army at Victoria BC, on 11 September 1915.  He was 34, and he and Jane already had 8 children.  Tom had previously served briefly in the 1st Manchester Rifles Brigade (Volunteers).  He was assigned service number 102537 and posted to 67th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry.  The 67th Battalion (Western Scots) was an infantry battalion which was authorized on 20 April 1915 and embarked for Britain on 1 April 1916. It was converted to pioneer and redesignated the 67th Canadian (Pioneer) Battalion on 15 May 1916. It disembarked in France on 14 August 1916, where it served as part of the 4th Canadian Division in France and Flanders until 28 April 1917, when its personnel were absorbed by the Canadian Corps in the field.  I don’t know the details but it is possible that if Tom Pickup was serving abroad he may have been allowed to return at this point, as Jane gave birth to another daughter in March 1918.  Tom Pickup would have seen the same action as his brothers-in-law Tom and Henry Brierley in 1916 and early 1917.


William Brierley remained in England.  He lived at Platt Bridge and worked as a colliery trammer (underground worker who loads coal onto tramcars).  He was 30 when war broke out, married with a young son, and I have no evidence of military service.


James Brierley also remained in England.  He was a coal miner and he died at Ince in Makerfield in 1962.


Robert Brierley enlisted in the Royal Navy on 2 August 1914, service number M8820.  His rank was 2.S.B.S.  This stands for 2nd Class Sick Berth Steward.  He signed up for one year, non-combat service, and worked at HMS Vivid (the naval barracks at Devonport) and at a hospital in Plymouth.  In 1922, he married Eleanor Hustings (b. 1880 in Chorley) and the following year they too emigrated to Nova Scotia.  Eleanor was previously married, to William Woodcock (b. 1878, d. 1910) and they had two daughters, Mary (b. 1904) and Margaret (b. 1911).  Robert left England first, to go initially to stay with his brother Joseph, now living in Montreal.  He arrived on 12 May 1923.  Eleanor arrived (with her two girls and their two boys, James (b. 1915) and John, (b. 1920)) on 14 September 1923.  Between them Robert and Eleanor had about $55 when they arrived in Canada.  By the time Eleanor and the children arrived, Robert had moved to Nova Scotia and was working at the Caledonia Mine, Cape Breton.  They didn’t stay long in Nova Scotia, though.  In 1928, they moved to Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, where Robert got a job as a glass polisher in an automotive factory (Ford).  He immediately declared his intention to become a naturalized US citizen.  In 1942, Robert (aged 51) was still living in Detroit and working for the Ford Motor Company when he registered for the US Draft that year.  Just after the Second World War, Robert and Eleanor made a visit to England, returning to Detroit on 18 February 1947.  Eleanor’s daughter Mary died the following year.  I can find no further references to Eleanor in the US records, but Robert retired to Florida, where he died in 1977, aged 85.


Ruth Brierley married Albert Haigh, who also served in the Canadian army.  Albert was born on 6 October 1879 in Stretford, Manchester.  His father was Walker Haigh (b. 1850 in Longwood, near Huddersfield), a brewer by trade.  His mother was Catherine Pritchard (b. 1849 in Bettws, Montgomeryshire).  Walker and Catherine were married in 1879.  Walker had four children; Gertrude was born in 1877 so she could have been born to a previous wife.  Albert’s siblings were Harry (b. 1881) and Ruth (b. 1883).  Walker died in 1885.  In 1901, Albert was living in Bristol Street, Salford and working as a kitchen porter in a restaurant.  Given Albert’s occupation and skills, his reason for emigrating is not as obvious as the Brierleys’, however, emigrate he did, landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 23 November 1907.  Ruth came over with her father in 1910 and the couple must have met soon after as they had their first child, Albert Walker, in 1913.  In 1913, Albert was 33 and Ruth was 19.  Their marriage is not recorded in Nova Scotia, but it is recorded that they married in Toronto in 1919 (I’ll explain this later).  The intervening years were turbulent.  In September 1914, Ruth and Albert had a second child, Thomas, but on 13 November that year Albert enlisted in the army.  The family were living at Joggins Mines, Nova Scotia.  Albert gives his occupation as miner, and gives his year of birth as 1882 (that would make him 32 whereas he was actually 35).  He also says that he previously served in the Imperial Yeomanry in England.  The Imperial Yeomanry was created in 1899 to allow volunteer forces to serve in the Boer War.  The Yeomanry was expanded by a second round of recruitment in 1901 and the recruits went to fight in South Africa later that year.  There was also a third contingent who arrived after the fighting had finished, but who remained until 1903 to help stabilise the country.  So Albert could have joined either the second or third round of recruitment and would have had some experience of military life before he emigrated to Canada in 1907.

Albert enlisted on 11 November 1914.  He had service number 353, later 67353, and was posted 25thCanadian Infantry Battalion.  He was 5’ 6½” tall and weighed 150lbs and had a 38” chest.  He had a swarthy complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair.  We can see from his military records that he and Ruth were not actually married.  After enlisting, Albert was given six weeks to produce a marriage certificate (he had claimed they were married on 29 April 1912), but on failing to do so, his records were amended to indicate Ruth should be paid as an ‘unmarried wife’.

In the six months Albert was in Canada, in training, he was absent without leave several times and ended up forfeiting a total of 13 days’ pay.  Ruth had moved from Joggins to Halifax, with their children, so this may explain his absences.  His unit sailed for Europe aboard the RMS Saxonia on 20 May 1915 (the same ship that would carry Henry and Thomas Brierley in November that year).  

ruth brierley haigh.png

25th Battalion the Canadian Infantry (Nova Scotia Rifles) came under orders of 5th Canadian Brigade in 2nd Canadian Division.  They landed in England in May 1915, completed training at Shorncliffe and crossed to France on 15-18 September 1915.  They were not engaged in any major fighting that year.  On 1 December 1915, Albert was charged with being absent from Quarters the previous night and was found guilty and sentenced to 7 days’ Field Punishment No 2, fined 3 days’ pay and forfeited another day’s pay.  In Field Punishment Number Two, the prisoner was placed in fetters and handcuffs but was not attached to a fixed object (as in FP No 1) and was still able to march with his unit. This was a relatively tolerable punishment.  In both forms of field punishment, the soldier was also subjected to hard labour and loss of pay.

2nd Canadian Division were sent to the Ypres Salient where they were engaged in the increasingly intensive mining activities along the front.  British mining against the German-held salient at Wijtschate near Messines had begun in spring 1915.  The concept of a deep mining offensive was devised in September 1915 by the Engineer-in-Chief of the BEF, Brigadier George Fowke, who proposed to dig under the Ploegsteert–Messines, Kemmel–Wytschaete (Wijtschate) and Vierstraat–Wytschaete roads and to dig two tunnels between the Douve river and the south-east end of Plugstreet (Ploegsteert) Wood, the objectives to be reached in three to six months.  Fowke’s scheme was formally approved on 6 January 1916.  Co-ordinated by the Royal Engineers, the mine galleries were dug by the British 71st, 175th, and 250th Tunnelling companies and the 1st Canadian, 3rd Canadian and 1st Australian Tunnelling companies, while the British 183rd, 2nd Canadian and 2nd Australian Tunnelling companies built dugouts (underground shelters) in the Second Army area.  Sappers dug the tunnels into a layer of “blue clay” 24–37 metres (80–120 ft) below the surface, then drifted galleries (horizontal passages) for 5,453 metres (5,964 yd) to points beneath the position of the German Group Wytschaete, despite German counter-mining.

So Albert, in 2nd Canadian Division, and with mining experience, was put to work in this operation.  On 4 January 1916, he was attached to 250th Tunnelling Company.  In some of his records, Albert’s rank is recorded as ‘Sapper’.  The work was dangerous and the conditions appalling.  On 19 January 1916, Albert returned to duty after a spell in hospital suffering from myalgia (muscle pain), but he was soon in trouble again, refusing an order to go on duty on 29 January 1916.  This time he was sentenced to 10 days’ Field Punishment No 2.


Albert was wounded twice in April 1916, by shrapnel.  The first wound was relatively light and he was straight back to work, but the second wound would eventually lead to his medical discharge.  The injury was a shrapnel bullet received at Kemmel, while going to work at his sap.  Some of his medical records refer to a gunshot wound so we need to clarify.  Shrapnel bullets are small spherical projectiles made of lead. During the 19th and 20th centuries shrapnel-type artillery ammunition was packed with dozens of shrapnel bullets. Shrapnel-type ammunition was designed to kill or seriously injure soldiers and horses in open spaces. Although “shrapnel” is o­ften used in contemporary English to refer to all types of exploding fragments, this usage is not technically correct. Strictly speaking, shrapnel describes a particular type of projectile (marble-sized lead bullets) contained within shrapnel-type ammunition.  Artillery shells were of four types: high explosive, gas, smoke, and shrapnel.  Shrapnel shells exploded in the air before landing and scattered lead bullets below.  Albert’s wound was to the lower part of the back of his head, so we can imagine him hearing the shell approaching and ducking to seek shelter.  Why didn’t his helmet protect him?  The archetypal metal helmet – the Brodie Mark I, also known as the shrapnel helmet – wasn’t introduced until May 1916, a month after Albert was wounded.


Albert was taken first to No. 13 General Hospital in Boulogne and then evacuated to England, arriving at Huddersfield War Hospital on 19 April.  A month later, on 17 May, he was transferred to the King’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital, at Bushy Park, Teddington, Middlesex, and from there on 2 June he was moved to the Military Convalescent Hospital at Woodcote Park, Epsom.  He was discharged from hospital on 19 July 1916.  He was then stationed in Kent, at Hastings, Folkestone and Dibgate until January 1917. Albert was examined again, suffering from headaches as a result of his gunshot wound, at Bramshott Camp, Hampshire, on 29 January 1917.  When he was assessed at Bramshott, he finally declares his real age, 37.  He remained at Bramshott until the end of May, when he was transferred to Buxton (28 May 1917).  He embarked for Canada on 9 June 1917, aboard the Scandinavian, arriving in Halifax on 23 June 1917.  He was seen as an outpatient at Pine Hill Hospital, Halifax, NS, on 26 June 1917 and admitted to hospital on 29 June.


The medical report describes his injury:  “Three inches above the occipital protuberance (in the lower part of the back of the head) is a small deep depression from a bullet wound.  Surrounding this is a curved scar from a flap incision for the trephining operation (to remove the shrapnel).  At times he states that this depressed scar discharges a thin bloody material.  At present it is dry.  He complains of periodic headaches at intervals of a few days and of black spots floating before the eyes.”  He also had an injury to his left hand, from an accident in 1907, which caused two of his fingers to be more or less permanently flexed. He was judged to be 50% incapacitated and 50% of the incapacity to be due to military service.  He was recommended for further treatment in a convalescent home.  He spent the next 5 months in hospital and his medical notes say: “Refuses decompression operation. Discharged as unfit”.  Albert had already had one ‘decompression operation’, on 2 September 1916, after which he continued to suffer headaches and dizziness.  He was discharged from military service on 30 November 1917, and also considered unfit to return to his previous job as a miner.  Despite his run-ins with authority, Albert’s conduct and character were deemed ‘Good’.


Albert’s last pay slip tells us that he was paid $1 a day, plus 10 cents a day field allowance, i.e. $33 a month, and $20 a month separation allowance was paid to his wife in England.


His next addresses are 22 Beaulieu Street, Côte-St Paul, Montreal, and then 56 Fuller Avenue, Parkdale, Toronto.  He and his family were living here in 1921, where Alfred was working as a labourer, earning $900 a year.  Albert died in Toronto on 28 June 1964, aged 84.


Ruth Brierley.  As we know, Ruth was born in Standish in 1893 and she emigrated to Canada with her father, landing in Nova Scotia on 23 September 1910.  They went to live with Ruth’s brother Joseph at Glace Bay.  There she met Albert Haigh.  Albert later claimed that they were married on 29 April 1912, when he was 32 and Ruth was 19.  In fact, they didn’t marry, though the following year they had their first child, Albert Walker Haigh.  Around this time, the couple moved to Joggins, Nova Scotia.  Although Nova Scotia is a small Canadian Province, the distances are nevertheless considerable, by UK standards: Joggins is some 450kms from Glace Bay.  Given these factors – that Ruth and Albert weren’t married and that the couple moved a long way from Ruth’s family – we may reasonably conclude that the relationship was not approved of by her father: Albert was Church of England and the Brierley family were Roman Catholics, and he was considerably older than her.  In September the following year, Ruth gave birth to their second child, but in November Albert enlisted; he even lied about his age, claiming to be two years younger than he really was, to ensure he would be accepted.  When Albert was posted, first for training in Halifax, and then to Europe, Ruth was faced with the daunting prospect of bringing up two young children on Albert’s separation allowance ($20 a month), in a remote part of a foreign country with no family support around her.  Ruth took the brave decision to follow her husband, first to Halifax then across the Atlantic back to England.  He left on 20 May 1915 and Ruth left, with her children, shortly afterwards.  I don’t have a precise date but from June 1915 her separation allowance was paid to her in England.  She spent some of the time at Heywood, between Bury and Rochdale, in Lancashire (I haven’t been able to trace a family connection there), but she spent most of the time with Albert’s mother, who lived in Hulme, Manchester.  She was living with Albert’s mother when he was wounded and then sent back to England.  And it would have been here that she heard news of the death of her brother, John, in September 1916.  


After he was wounded in April 1916, Albert was in hospital for most of 1916 and 1917, and in May 1917 he was briefly in hospital at Buxton, in Derbyshire, not far from Manchester and around then he must have been allowed some home leave, because when he left to go back to Canada, on 9 June, Ruth was pregnant again.  She remained in England throughout the pregnancy and their son, Robert, was born in Manchester in March 1918.  Meanwhile, Albert spent more time in hospital in Halifax, but when he came out he didn’t go back to Joggins, but instead he went first to Montreal and then to Toronto.  Ruth went back to Canada in May 1919 and four months later, on 6 September 1919, Ruth and Albert were married in the Roman Catholic Holy Family Church, at King Street West, Toronto.  They had a daughter, Ruth, the following year.  Albert died in 1964.  Ruth Brierley Haigh died in 1977.




Once I had completed the research on the military activities of this branch of the Brierley family and their lives in Canada, I looked again at the father – Thomas Brierley – who was born in Brindle in 1853.  Brindle is a village in Lancashire, next door to Bamber Bridge, where my family come from.  So I looked further back to see if there might be any family connection.  To my amazement, and delight, I found that Thomas’s great grandparents – John Brierley (1757-1824) and Elizabeth Parkinson (1757-1824) – are my 4x great grandparents.  So Tom’s children (including Henry and John who lost their lives in the War) are my 3rdcousins twice removed.

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