James O K BRIERLEY
Rank: Private
Number: 36957
Unit: 3/5th Battalion LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS
Date of Death: 18 October 1917
Age: 34
Cemetery: Harlebeke New British Cemetery, Belgium

James was the son of Joseph and Sarah who, in 1901, were living at 69 Manchester Road in the Lancashire Hill area of Stockport. They also had a daughter, eight year old Lily. After the War, Joseph and Sarah were living at 29 Reuban Street, Heaton Norris.

When James volunteered for the army he joined the South Lancashire Regiment and was given 27494 as his service number. This doesn't appear on his medal entitlement records at the National Archives confirming that he never served abroad with the Regiment. No doubt, he was transferred to the Fusiliers after he completed his training.

The 3/5th Battalion was a "third line" Territorial Battalion which had been formed during the War, mainly as a reserve to supply the 1/5th and 2/5th battalions, already on active service. However, by the spring of 1917, the demand for troops was such that the whole Battalion moved to Belgium.

James died of wounds he received in battle and it has not been possible to establish with absolute certainty when this was. After examining the Battalion's War Diary, a possible date is 9 October, when a major attack took place in the final phases of the Third Battle of Ypres.

197 Brigade, comprising four Battalions of Lancashire Fusiliers, advanced towards the village of Passchendaele. Zero hour was 5.20am. By 9.30, the 3/5th had advanced along the Roulers railway and taken the enemy objective described only as the "Red Line". The 2/8th Battalion, assisted by some men from the 3/5th pushed on towards the "Blue Line" and some were reported to have reached the outskirts of the village.

Two German counter attacks were driven off during the morning. Other units formed a defensive flank on the left, but the Fusiliers misinterpreted this as a general withdrawal and they all fell back to the Red Line, at about 1.30pm. They consolidated this position and held it securely.

Assuming that this is when James was wounded, he would have been evacuated from the battlefield back towards to the towns of Ypres and Poperinghe, in the south and west, where the military field hospitals were based

Harlebeke remained in German hands until 19/20 October 1918 (exactly a year and a day after James died) and the Cemetery was not created until after the Armistice. The remains of men who had been interred in small front line burials areas were reburied here where their graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

It is, also, possible that he was wounded on 18 October and died very shortly afterwards. At the time the Battalion was in reserve but may have been providing working parties to the forward areas which have gone unrecorded in the unit's War Diary. At the time the front line was still some 20 kilometres from Harlebeke and it remains a complete mystery why his body would have moved such a distance after the end of the fighting.

There is a further possibility and that is that he was taken prisoner during the attack. Perhaps he was wounded before the troops fell back and it was necessary to leave him to be attended by the Germans. Although official records make no mention of prisoners being captured that day, the scenario certainly fits the facts better then the earlier possibilities.

   
           
   
     
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