Friday, March 23, 2007

Killed by a shell burst - James Brazier


William James Brazier was killed in action this day in 1918. The Kaiser's offensive, launched on a misty morning two days earlier, saw advances all along the front as land that had been fought over for nearly four years, was swallowed up by the advancing German armies.

Soldiers Died in The Great War notes that William James Brazier was born at Arundel in Sussex, enlisted at Newhaven and was living at Sheffield Park Station, north of Chailey.  I think he probably used his middle name, James, instead of William however, as this is how Chailey parish magazine refers to him. He was serving with the 81st Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery which formed part of the 48th Heavy Artillery Group.

On the day he was killed, the battery was situated west of Sapignies and William, working on number 3 gun, fell victim to a direct hit on the gun which exploded a fuzed shell. He was buried the same evening although his grave must have been lost in subsequent fighting. Today he is commemorated on the Arras memorial as W J Brazier.

I have been unable to find a convincing match for either James or William James Brazier on census returns.  There is only one Brazier (that I could find), born at Arundel listed on the 1901 census of England and Wales and that is 53 year old James Brazier, boarding at Headbourn Worthy, Hampshire.  There is a 30 year old William J Brazier born at Brighton and living at Brighton noted on the 1901 census but this does not solve the Arundel part of the jigsaw.  No ‘Brazier’ appears on the Arundel war memorial.

Chailey Parish Magazine notes in October 1914 that James Brazier is serving his King and Country and the following October, this is updated to include the information that he is a trumpeter with the Royal Garrison Artillery in France.  In December 1917, Chailey Parish Magazine notes that he is now a bombardier and this information is repeated up to and including the final entry in April 1918.

Both Soldiers Died in the Great War and The Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission’s Debt of Honour register note James Brazier’s rank at the time of his death, as corporal and this is confirmed on his medal index card held at The National Archives in London.  The card also notes that James arrived in France on 6th March 1915.  He served with the 81st Siege Battery, RGA and must have arrived in France as part of a small follow-up party to the Battery which had disembarked the previous day. 

The Battery formed part of the 48th Heavy Artillery Group and according to the latter's war diary, the day on which James was killed, 23rd March 1918, was a fine day which saw the Battery situated west of Sapignies. The history of the 81st Siege Battery gives further details:

“During the afternoon of Mar 23rd No 3 gun received a direct hit. This exploded a fuzed shell which killed Cpl. Brazier. He was buried the same evening and the funeral party was bombed by enemy aircraft at the graveside, but no casualties occurred”.

James Brazier's grave must have been lost in subsequent fighting as today he has no known grave and is commemorated on Bay 1 of the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais under the name W J Brazier (above).  His army service number was 37224 (below, courtesy of Ancestry).
 
 
In May 1918, Chailey Parish Magazine added Corporal Brazier’s name to its roll of honour, albeit incorrectly noting his date of death as 24th March 1918.

It is possible that James Brazier was a pre-war regular soldier.  When war was declared, the 81st Siege Battery was stationed in India and arrived back in England on 23rd December 1914.  The photo included on this page is of a trumpeter with the 81st when the Battery was stationed at Roorkee, India in 1911.  It is possible that this is James Brazier although this needs to be confirmed. 


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