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stephenbriggs1886Stephen Briggs was born in Preston on 18th September 1886. His parents were Stephen Briggs (1857 – 1930) and Sarah Jane (nee Simpson) (1858 – 1921).

Stephen married Margaret Ann (nee Fincham) at the English Martyrs’ church in Preston on 20th July 1912.

On the 25th March 1914 Stephen and Margaret had a daughter who they gave the same name as her mother, Margaret Ann Briggs. They were at this time living at 13, Heysham Street, Preston.

On 4th September 1914, exactly a month after the War had broken out, Stephen enlisted in the Army and joined the 10th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He was 27 years 11 months old and gave his occupation as being a ‘loader’. He was a Railway Goods Porter.

At his enlistment medical the examining officer described him as being 5 ft 8 in tall and weighing 137 lbs. He was of ‘medium’ complexion with brown hair and light brown eyes.

Stephen was posted to into the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion in February 1915 and into the 1st Battalion the following month. He sailed to France to join them in the field on 16th March 1915.

The next month, 12th April 1915, he sustained a gunshot wound to his right calf. He was admitted to No. 16 General Hospital at Le Trefort where he remained until 17th July that year. He returned home and was granted a furlough of leave between 30th July – 5th August 1915.

By August 1915 he had returned to the 3rd Battalion and was appointed Lance Corporal (unpaid).

In February 1916 Stephen was demoted, reverting to the rank of Private following a period of unauthorised absence; and in March 1916 he was posted back to the 10th Battalion, sailing again for France on 8th March 1916.

In mid-July 1916, following the huge losses on the Somme, Stephen was re-appointed Lance Corporal ‘to complete the establishment’.

Stephen was injured again on 11th August 1916 having sustained a gunshot wound to his right hand. He was in Dammes-Camiers hospital until the 23rd August.

Report of Operations –  B.G.C 112th Brigade. 11th August 1916

06:30 am Aug 11th.

I beg to forward herewith a preliminary account of the operation against the intermediate line which my Battalion undertook early this morning.

The objective was that part of the intermediate line from the Barricade at about S2D96 to the road westwards where it crosses the intermediate line.

In order to avoid as far as possible the enemy barrage, I determined to attack in enfilade in preference to a frontal attack.

The dispositions were that two companies were employed. I withdrew from the remaining two companies all their best bombers and mixed them with the fighting groups of the companies detailed for the attack.

Lt Gravett, C Coy was detailed to lead the attack, with A Coy, Lt Proctor in support.

These two companies occupied the line previous to the attack, ‘C’ in the left, ‘A’ in the right, their place being taken by the company in close support as they formed their dispositions previous to zero time.

A ramp was constructed to enable the men to get out of the trench quickly. By 01:55 am – (zero being 02:00 am), the leading company were all above ground in proper formation.

I ordered the O.C ‘A’ Coy to sweep the objective and either side of it thoroughly with Lewis Gun fire from 01:55 am till 02:20 am and stationed four rifle grenade men on the top, near the barricade to continue firing rifle grenades over the attacking infantry into the trench and along each side of it.

Lt Gravett led the attack with twenty bombers carrying waistcoats, ten bombs in each. Each man with rifle bayonet fixed, slung.

Behind him, four fighting groups under their own NCOs with whom they have (their) instructions – nine men in each group, bombers wearing waistcoats, ten bombs each – every man in addition carried two bombs each. Behind these, trench clearers and men carrying buckets of bombs (all these in the trench).

The Lewis Guns were on the right flank, one fired ahead, the second swept the ground to the North, i.e. the right flank.

A right flank guard, 50 yards from the trench was to sweep up snipers.

As soon as the last men of ‘C’ Company passed the Barricade, the orders were for the leading group of ‘A’ Company to get into the trench and follow-on. The two last groups to carry one pick and one shovel each – Two groups carrying buckets of bombs.

In addition, one selected NCO and twelve expert bombers and determined men were selected to advance along the left side of the trench – in order to support ‘C’ Company if held up, and take the enemy in rear.

The artillery barrage is reported to have been weak and ineffective, in fact, the Officers inform me that they could not have told when the barrage lifted at zero, had they not been accurately clocked. It did not keep the enemy snipers heads down nor apparently interfere with their machine-gun fire.

At zero precisely, Lt Gravett and his twenty bombers rushed along the trench, as they passed the Barricade, throwing bombs into the trench and pressing on at the double. The remaining groups followed on, some in the trench, some outside as detailed. There was little opposition for 100 yards, when the enemy began to throw bombs from the trench and put up the SOS signal, and many flares.

The men took cover in shell holes and crept forward throwing bombs, the groups doing their work in the trench.

At about 150 yards, the enemy opened machine-gun fire with two guns from the road, and enfiladed the trench and both sides. Under a shower of bombs our men fell back, there being many casualties. Lt Gravett was also wounded by shrapnel and incapacitated from throwing bombs.

Lt Proctor and party now came up on the left side of the trench and attacked the Bosche vigorously, driving them back and carrying on the whole attack again.

The men shouted out “Bolton” – “Bolton” – being apparently mostly men from that town.

They charged forward in the trench, some men still under Lt Gravett still on top and bombing; they finally drove the enemy back over the road.

The last forty yards being quite straight and a machine-gun firing from behind the road directly into the trench – after several men had been knocked out it was decided to block the trench at this point, which was done and a second barricade erected forty yards further back. The first barricade being held by Lewis Guns in position.

The enemy fired great numbers of rifle grenades as the attackers advanced into the trench and on either side. Lt Gravett was a second time wounded in the head by a bomb, but remained most gallantly in command of his men till the trench was finally taken and consolidated. Lt Proctor was also wounded in two places by bullet and bomb. These were the only two officers concerned in the actual attack and are the only officers in the companies which took part in the operation.

The enemy bombarded the captured trench heavily at once and continuously and the officer who was placed on guard at the new barricade has just been severely wounded. The leaves me actually with four 2nd Lts, myself, my Second in Command, and my Adjutant.

The men have suffered heavily and although I have not yet received the total list of casualties – I fear that the two companies have lost 50% in killed and wounded. Both the Company Serjeant-Majors were killed. I am informed by the medical officer and by my 2ic that the men are however in good spirits and have got unlimited pluck in them notwithstanding.

At 04:45 am the enemy made a determined counter attack – crossing the road and attacking our barricade in the trench whilst large numbers attacked across the open, from another trench near the road. These attacks were all beaten off and the enemy driven back over the road. The Lewis Guns killed a considerable number in the open.

In the trench itself, twenty Germans were killed. The remainder scattered across the open and across the road. The Lewis Guns doing good execution.

I cannot speak too highly of the gallantry and determination of Lt Proctor, and Lt Gravett who personally let their men with very great courage and I wish to recommend these officers for the Military Cross. Lt Proctors jaw is smashed, Lt Gravett I trust is not so severely wounded.

– R. Cobbold, Lt Colonel, Comd 10th Loyal N. Lancs.

Stephen’s daughter Margaret Ann Briggs died at the Royal Infirmary in Preston on 2nd October 1916, aged 2.

In April 1917 he sustained a gunshot wound to his neck and a shrapnel wound to his leg and was admitted to No. 20 General Hospital in Etaples. He was then sent back to the UK where he spent from 11th May – 28th June 1917 in the War Hospital at Keighley.

When he returned to the Depot he was stripped of his stripe due to another period of unauthorised absence, presumably he had added on a few days leave when he was discharged from hospital.

In October 1917 Private Stephen Briggs was permanently transferred to the Labour Corps and served with both 362 and 567 Employment Companies.

On 7th February 1918 Stephen and Margaret had a son whom they Thomas. They were living at 21 Peel Street, Preston. Thomas unfortunately died five months later, 16th July 1918, of broncho-pneumonia and convulsions.

On the 16th August 1918 Stephen was compulsory transferred to the 23rd Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers with the number 97365. He was demobilized to Class ‘Z’ Army Reserves on 12th March 1919 having served for 4 years 190 days.

For his War Service, Private Stephen Briggs was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. Stephen also received a War Pension due to the 20% disability the gunshot wound and shrapnel had left him.

Stephen and Margret went on to have two more children, a son named Stephen was born in 1923 and died 1932, aged 9; and a daughter Mary Eileen who was born in 1925 and lived to 2005.

Stephen Briggs died in Preston in 1970, aged 84.

Paul McCormick
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