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Percy Brierley was born on 20 January 1894 at Little Lever, near Bolton, and baptised at Starcliffe Primitive Methodist Chapel, Farnworth, on 12 July that year. His father was Joseph Henry Brierley (b. 1859 in Farnworth), a carter by trade. His mother was Mary Jane Hodgkiss (b. 1861 in Farnworth). Joseph and Mary Jane were married in 1892 and Percy was their only child, as Joseph died in 1895. Mary Jane remarried in 1898 and her second husband was John Connolly (b. 1863 in Farnworth), a general labourer. John and Mary Jane had one child but s/he did not survive. In 1911, Percy was living with his mother and step-father at 6 Welsby Square, Farnworth. He was working as a coal carter.

Percy signed up as soon as War broke out. He was posted to 9Bn the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, with service number 14886. 9Bn was formed at Preston in September 1914 as part of K3 and came under command of 74th Brigade in 25th Division. Percy landed in France with his Division on 25 September 1915. Percy saw action with this Battalion throughout the War: in 1916, at Vimy Ridge, then on the Somme at Albert, Bazentin, Pozières, and the Ancre; in 1917, at Messines, and at Pilkem in the opening phase of the Third Battle of Ypres. The Division suffered very heavy losses in the capture of Westhoek, losing 47 officers and 1244 men, killed, wounded or missing. The Division was withdrawn on 9 September 1917 and at the end of the year was moved to Assiet Le Grand and Bullecourt. In 1918, the Division was used in a piecemeal way to support other divisions which came under attack during the opening phase of the German Spring Offensive (at the Battle of St Quentin) and at the end of the month, at the Battle of Bapaume, the 74th Brigade continued their fighting withdrawal. On 27 and 28 March they covered a considerable distance on foot (36 miles in 36 hours). The Division had also lost more than half its fighting strength: 318 officers and men dead, 1496 wounded and 1588 missing, many taken prisoner. At the end of March, the Division was reinforced, but with many inexperienced officers and 19-year old recruits with no experience of fighting. They were again heavily involved throughout the second phase of the Spring Offensive – Operation Georgette, or the Battle of the Lys (9-29 April). From the start of the Battle of the Lys on 9 April, the Division had suffered another 7702 casualties, of whom 270 were known to be dead. This was two thirds of the Division’s fighting strength. Of the total, 3407 were missing.

The Division entrained at Rexpoede on 9 May and undertook a long journey to Fismes, 20 miles SE of Soissons in the Champagne. It was the last of four British Divisions making up IX Corps to arrive in the area, under a plan to relieve fresh French Divisions for the north. The front line on the Chemin des Dames and south of the Aisne had been very quiet since spring 1917 and it was expected that the tired Divisions could recuperate there. However, on 26 May, intelligence confirmed a heavy German attack could be expected. 25th Division was in reserve and ordered up into a closer support position.

At 1am on 27 May 1918, a heavy German bombardment with gas and high explosive hit the entire area between the front line beyond the Chemin and Fismes itself. The infantry began to attack three hours later. The Division was instructed to hold the second line of defence, except for the poor 8th Border Regiment which was sent off to hold the Aisne bridges at Pontavert and Concevreux. By 10am, all three Brigades had come under orders of the 21st, 8th and 50th Divisions respectively, which by now were fighting for their lives north of the river. By mid-day the Germans had broken through and crossed the Aisne: the units of 25th Division were thrown piecemeal into action. They were all but destroyed. The 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, holding high ground north of the Vesle, held out to the last man. The remnants of many units were temporarily joined into composite units, fighting a withdrawal as the enemy pressed on many miles across the River Marne. Casualties for the Division between 26 May and 14 June amounted to 4338 officers and men, of whom 2511 were missing. 9Bn alone, during its last two months as part of the L.N.LAN.R., suffered no fewer than 1,200 casualties killed, wounded or missing.

A decision was taken on 9 June to break up the Division to reinforce other formations and the reassignment of infantry troops to other divisions began on 30 June. CWGC tells us that Percy was attached to No 3, Medical Board Dept. of the Royal Army Medical Corps at Étaples, and he was killed in action on 24 or 25 July 1918. He was 24 years old. The precise circumstances of his death are not known, but just before he was reassigned, Étaples camp and hospitals had been bombed by the Germans (19 May and 1/2 June) with many officers, nurses and men killed or wounded, so this was hardly a safe haven for men recently at the front.

Rank: Private
Service No: 14886
Date of Death: 24 July 1918
Age: 24
Regiment/Service: Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 9Bn, attd. No3 Medical Board Dept. Royal Army Medical Corps
Cemetery: ETAPLES MILITARY CEMETERY

Bill Brierley

Bill Brierley

Before taking early retirement in 2007 and returning to his native Lancashire in 2009, Bill Brierley was head of the School of Languages and Area Studies at the University of Portsmouth.Bill has researched his own family history and has developed a further interest in World War 1 especially as it impacted on the villages of Lostock Hall and Bamber Bridge, where his family originates from.Bill has also displayed his work at Lostock Hall library and contributed to other displays at Leyland Library and South Ribble Museum.
Bill Brierley

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