CAPT. H. C. BRIERLEY. MANCH.R.
Hugh Colley Brierley was born in Chester in 1879. His father was John Colley Brierley (b. 1835 in Tattenhall, Cheshire), a draper and mercer by profession. His mother was Martha Paine Fisher (b. 1845 at Potton near Biggleswade in Befordshire). Martha was working as a draper’s assistant in London when they met. John and Martha were married in Chelsea in 1868 and immediately moved back to Cheshire where they had 7 children: Maude Fisher (b. 1869), William Booth (b. 1870), John Gamon (b. 1873), Florence May (b. 1874), then Hugh Colley, then Coningsby Kennedy (b. 1881) and finally Eunice Helena (b. 1887). John died in 1895 and Martha died in 1905.
In 1901, Hugh was working as a land surveyor’s assistant at Mitchel Troy in Monmouthshire. In 1902, he passed the Fellowship examination of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. In 1911, Hugh was unmarried and was Surveyor to Manchester City Council and living at 42 Clevedon Road, North Shore, Blackpool.
As regards his military career, he was a volunteer before the War. He became 2nd Lt. in the 1st Volunteer Battalion The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in 1906. He transferred to 5th Battalion in the same Regiment in 1908. On 1 October 1914 he became Captain in the 6th Battalion Manchester Regiment (London Gazette, 12 November 1914, p9248).
6th Battalion (or 1/6th Battalion as it became known) was formed in August 1914 in Stretford Road, Hulme. It formed part of the Manchester Brigade, in the East Lancashire Division. On 25 September 1914 they landed at Alexandria in Egypt and on 6 May 1915 they landed at Gallipoli. On 26 May 1915 the formation became 127th Brigade, 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. They were evacuated from Gallipoli on 28 December 1915, landing first on Moudros and then to Egypt. On 2 March 1917 they landed at Marseilles and proceeded to the Western Front.
We know from his Medal Index Card that Hugh was posted to France on 9 March 1917, but it’s not clear if he served in Gallipoli or joined the Battalion directly from Britain.
On arrival in France and after being re-equipped for trench warfare in very different conditions to those the men had become accustomed to in Gallipoli, 42nd Division entered the line at Épehy, as part of III Corps in Fourth Army. The War Diary for the Battalion contains a census of its members in March 1917, which makes very sobering reading. It shows that of the original members of the Battalion, 173 had been killed, 370 wounded and 72 were missing (who can be presumed dead), a total of 615 of an original establishment of about 850-900. The meticulous list then goes on to detail each of the subsequent 22 drafts and gives the final casualty list: 241 killed, 621 wounded and 88 missing; 952 in total. All lost in the Gallipoli campaign. They had also lost 23 officers killed, 23 wounded, 4 missing and 28 sick.
The Battalion spent some time in March and April 1917 being re-equipped and trained for the new conditions and they also had work to do other than fighting. On 19 April 1917, Capt. Brierley is recorded as being in command of a working party of 4 officers and 150 men engaged in road construction near Mons-en-Chaussée, which is south-east of Péronne, near the River Somme. They continued with road building for a while but by the end of the month they were back in the line near Épehy. May saw a mix of activities: in the line, working on road building, and occasionally witnessing aircraft dog fights. Towards the end of the month, they were engaged in repairing and extending trenches at Havrincourt, often having to work at night to avoid being shot or shelled by the enemy. Small parties were sent out regularly to reconnoitre the enemy trenches. On 8-9 June large numbers of men were engaged in digging new trenches and pushing the front line forward. They then had a period of rest and in reserve before returning to the trenches on 20 June. The War Diarist records the novelty of the men being transported by the new Decauville rail system. Thunderstorms on the 20-21 June made conditions in the trenches very bad. On the night of 23 June, “while working parties were employed on the new Firing Line, the enemy opened trench mortar fire on to that portion of the line near Cabbage Tree and by a direct hit killed Capt. H.C. BRIERLEY. Working parties consisting of every available man from each Company were employed nightly in deepening, widening and fire-stepping the new Firing Line.” Hugh was 38 years old (though CWGC records his age as 35). 5 other men from 1/5 and 1/6 Battalions Manchester Regiment were killed at the same time.
Date of Death: 23/06/1917
Regiment/Service: Manchester Regiment, 6th Bn.
Grave Reference: C. 7.
Cemetery: RUYAULCOURT MILITARY CEMETERY
Hugh’s family have some interesting characters among them, but not so much for military connections, but rather musical. Older brother William Booth Brierley was a Doctor of Music, organist at St. Mary’s-without-the-walls, West Kirby Parish Church and music master at the Claday Grange Grammar School. Younger brother Coningsby Kennedy Brierley was a music hall artist, actor and comedian. Before the War, he appeared at the Leeds Grand in September 1912 in The Arcadians. The previous year he was in lodgings whilst working in Rugby and sharing the house with Laura Lindsley, an actress, who would become Coningsby’s wife in 1913. He enlisted in the Navy on 28 March 1917 and was demobilised on 8 February 1919. He got straight back into the theatre, appearing in Sunshine of the World at the Prince’s Theatre, Bristol in 1920 and in Bandits at the same theatre in 1929. They later settled in Fulham, where Coningsby died in 1945.
Hugh’s cousin was 2nd Lt. Roger Christian Brierley who was killed near Ypres on 14 July 1917. The cousins died 3 weeks apart.