Percy BROOKS
Rank: Corporal
Number: 142286
Unit: 19th Battalion MACHINE GUN CORPS
Date of Death: 26 March 1918
Age: 20 (based on 1901 Census)
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Percy came frrm a large family who had lived on hawthorn Road, Heaton Mersey for many years. His father, Harry, worked for a local cotton bleaching company and died in 1925, aged 65.

Nothing is known of Percy's early life, other than he was born in Heaton Mersey and was living at the family home when he enlisted into the army in Manchester. He originally joined the 7th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment and his service number, 2523, indicates he was an early recruit and probably had lied about his age to enlist.

The 7th Battalion saw action throughout the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and the Third Battle of Ypres the following year. In February 1918, it was disbanded in France. Percy must have had a spell of leave at that time as the Stockport Advertiser, in its edition of 15 February, reported he was home. It also noted that he had been serving with the Battalion's Lewis Gun section. Lewis guns were light machine guns so it is no surprise that, when he retuned to duty, Percy found himself transferred to the heavy guns of the Machine Gun Corps. As a Corporal, he would have been in charge of one the seven-man teams that operated each of the 19th Battalion's 64 guns.

On 21 March 1918, the German opened a forceful artillery barrage along a wide section of the British front line. This continued for a couple of hours before the German infantry attacked in overwhelming force. In such circumstances, the guns of the Machine Gun Corps had a specific defensive role. Their fields of fire would be set so as to be inter-locked and they would fire at any advancing infantry cutting them down with heavy fire. The guns could fire off an ammunition belt of 250 bullets in just 30 seconds.

Percy and his comrades were in reserve at a sugar factory near the Somme village of Le Transloy and were ordered to "stand to" at 5.15am. They were in action at Doignes during the day before being ordered to withdraw. The British Army was now fighting a desperate retreat. Further withdrawals were made over the coming days and, by the evening of the 25th, the Battalion was camped west of the Sailly-Fonquevillers road, about 1.5 kilometres from Sailly.

At 9.30 the following morning, reports were received that the enemy was attacking British positions near Hebuterne. Seven gun teams, under Lieutenant Corvan, were ordered to west of the village, where two guns were set up, each with four belt boxes of ammunition. There was no ammunition for the remaining five guns and, in two cases, the guns had no mounting tripods making them impossible to use.

At 9.30, Lieutenant Dunt came forward with 4 additional gun teams and, 30 minutes later, 12 new guns arrived from the stores. All available weapons were now deployed on high ground, west of the Sailly-Fonquevillers road. This main strongpoint in the sector now comprised the Battalion's 17 guns and 200 infantry - stragglers who had become separated from their units. The Battalion's War Diary makes no reference to engaging the enemy but it is presumed they must have done so and this was probably when Percy was killed. During the night, the Battalion was relieved from the front line.

In the chaos of the previous days, it is unsurprising that the War Diary has scant details of the actions or that there is no mention of daily casualties. It does record that between the 21st and 28th March, 326 soldiers had become casualties - dead, wounded, prisoner or missing.

Percy was one of those posted as missing. Although his date of death is recorded by the War Graves Commission as the 26th, it is possible that it occurred on one of the previous days. His body was never found and identified.

   
           
   
     
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