George Thomas Brenchley
George Thomas Brenchley was born in Murston, Sittingbourne, Kent in 1892. His parents Joseph and Jane lived at 110, Lower Murston, Sittingbourne. George had a younger brother Fred. On leaving school he started work as a brickmaker and then, when he was eighteen, he joined the army on January 4, 1910, being recruited as Private 14565 of the Grenadier Guards. He was five feet ten inches tall, weighed ten stones and had brown hair and grey eyes.
He completed his regular army service on January 4, 1913, and was placed on the Reserve List. On leaving the army he joined Essex Constabulary and was attested as Constable 433. Later that year, at Rochford registry office on June 28, he married Kate Mabel May Giddens and they moved into 99 Moseley Street, Southend. Their first child Doris Mabel was born on September 30.
It is probable that George was stationed at Southend whilst serving with the Essex Constabulary and with the formation of the Borough Force on April 1, 1914, he successfully applied to transfer as Constable 32. His service with the Borough Force was short-lived; with the outbreak of war in August 1914, George was soon mobilized and on August 5 rejoined the Grenadier Guards. He was part of the British Expeditionary Force that moved to France later that month.
Following the formation of the Guards Division in August 1915, Private 14656 Brenchley was a member of 1st Battalion (Kings Company) Grenadier Guards which formed part of the 3rd Brigade of the Guards Division. This may not have been the battalion that he was assigned to in August 1914 because it is understood that George fought at Mons, where he was injured on August 25, 1914, and was awarded the Mons Star. The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards were not deployed at Mons but fought in the first battle of Ypres. George was probably with 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards at Mons and transferred to the 1st Battalion on the formation of the Guards Division. The Guards had suffered very heavy losses during engagements at Mons, in the retreat from Mons, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle and the new Guards Division was supplemented with Kitcheners volunteers.
George must have had some leave in the winter of 1914/15 because Kate became pregnant and their second child Muriel Evelyn Maud was born on October 13, 1915.
In September 1915, the Guards Division were in the front line during the battle of Loos where the 3rd Brigade attacked Hill 70. In October they saw further action with an attack on the well-fortified Hohenzollern Redoubt and Dump trench. They were withdrawn from the line at the end of October and moved to rest billets near Bethune. Over the winter of that year they spent time in the front line trenches to the east and south east of Laventie.
After some hard marching on slippery and snow covered roads they moved north to Flanders, arriving on the Ypres salient on February 19, 1916, where, for the next four months, they spent a number of periods in the front line. They moved back south in July to support the Somme offensive, going into the line at Beaumont Hamel and then seeing further action at Morval, Lesboeufs, Gueudencourt and Guinchy until they were relieved on September 25.
The winter of 1916/17 saw the Guards Division relieve the French in the line at Sailly Saillisel before their move back north to Flanders where, at the end of July 1917, they took part in the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (Ypres) and the 3rd Battle of Ypres. By the time they were relieved in the line on October 17 the division had lost 303 Officers and 7,898 other ranks. They had also inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy helping to put out no less than six German divisions. The following message was received from King George:
"As Colonel-in-Chief of the Guards His Majesty is proud to think that there has been imposed upon the Division no task that has not been successfully fulfilled. The king has no doubt that after a well earned rest, rebuilt and re-equipped, the Division will distinguish itself in the future as it has distinguished itself in the past, and His Majesty sends you all his best wishes."
Buckingham Palace 17 10 1917.
Rest from the lines was limited, on November 9 the division were ordered to march south with much speculation about their destination. On November 12 they arrived at St Pol where senior officers were told that they were to support an offensive at Cambrai where the objective was to break through the Hindenburg Line on a front of 10,000 yards between Gonnelieu and Havrincourt. The Guards, as part of V Corps would support the initial attack by 111 and 1V Corps.
Although the initial attack went well, the Germans counter-attacked and the Guards were used to strengthen the line at Gouzeaucourt. The 3rd Brigade made an attack on Gonnilieu on December 1 when the King's Company Grenadiers came under heavy machine-gun fire causing heavy casualties. The Grenadiers, by gallant action, fought their way into the village but eventually they were overwhelmed by a determined German counter-attack. Those that were left made their way back to a trench just west of Gonnilieu and mounted a further attack on the German lines losing 100 casualties but, through hard fighting, they drove the Germans back, securing the left flank. On the night of December 3, the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards were relieved in the line. The following telegram was received on December 5.
I desire to congratulate the Guards Division most warmly on their fine counter-attacks at Gouzeaucourt and Gonnilieu. The promptness of decision and rapidity of action displayed by them was successful in dealing with a difficult situation.
Sir Douglas Haig.
Casualties for 3rd Guards Brigade between November 25 and December 6, 1917, were 34 officers and 928 other ranks. The rest of December was spent resting and training in the area in and around Arras. The weather was bitterly cold but generally fine.
On January 1, 3rd Guards Brigade moved into the line on The Scarpe between Monchy-le-Preux and Gavrelle and spent much of the next ten weeks in the trenches till they were withdrawn on March 19 and concentrated in Arras and Berneville as part of XV11 Corps reserve.
On March 21, 1918, the Germans launched a big offensive with sixty-four divisions attacking the British line on a front of fifty-four miles. The Guards Division were moved from a reserve position to support the line; the 3rd Guards Brigade held the front between Bank Copse just north of the Courcelles/Croisilles road and the outskirts of Henin. There was no sustained attempt by the Germans to break through the line held by the Guards Division but because of advances elsewhere the Division was withdrawn on March 26 to a line between Ayette and Boisleux-St. Marc.
Continuous attacks were mounted by the Germans against the Guards line with shell, machine-gun and minenwerfer fire causing terrible damage to the Grenadiers' trenches. On March 30, German infantry made repeated attacks on the line held by the Guards but the line held despite the heavy odds. The enemy's advance had received a decided check. Had the front been broken it may well have been disastrous for the Allies. The 3rd Guards Brigade lost 12 0fficers and 332 other ranks during the March attacks.
Although there was a desire to relieve the Guards Division in the line this was not possible till April 14/15 when what was left of 3rd Guards Brigade withdrew to Barly. After a short rest they were back in the line on April 25 near Ayette. Although German artillery continued to be active throughout May there was no other offensive action against the Guards position. On June 6 and 7 they were relieved and went back to the billets at Barly.
The Guards returned to the line early in July in readiness for what was to be the British counter-offensive. On August 24 with advances having already been made, the 3rd Guards Brigade were given the objective to capture the village of St Leger. The advance was successfully accomplished, but after St Leger had been secured, it was found impossible to make any further progress until Mory Copse was cleared. This was arranged by other troops whilst the 3rd Guards Brigade pushed forward to sustain the advance. The attack continued through the 25th with considerable resistance being met in Leger Wood. The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards was strongly counter-attacked and suffered heavy casualties. That night they were relieved in the line. During this action the casualties of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards was 2 officers and 50 other ranks.
Brigadier-General G B S Follett who commanded the 3rd Guards Brigade and who died in a later attack with his brigade on September 27, 1918, wrote of the events of August 23, 24 and 25:
'The 1st Battalion Grenadiers gave the finest exhibition that has ever been made in this war.'
Lance Sergeant George Brenchley was killed in action during the attack on August 24, 1918, he was twenty-six years old. He had fought throughout France and Flanders for four years and had been wounded on three occasions. Few soldiers of the First World War could have seen more action than he did. Given the losses sustained by his battalion he must have been one of a few of the Kings Company who had been with the Expeditionary Force in August 1914.
He was described by his commanding officer as 'A most gallant serjeant.' He is buried at Mory Abbey Military Cemetery, Mory, Pas de Calais. His family had his headstone inscribed 'He Loving much was greatly loved and deeply mourned.' The cemetery is located at the eastern end of the village opposite a farm called L'Abbaye. Not far distant is a motor way and a main railway line that interrupt the otherwise peaceful setting. It is on a raised level protected by an attractive stone wall with steps leading up to the Cross of Sacrifice and the burial area. The cemetery contains a number of guardsmen who would have fought with George Brenchley and whose bodies were recovered from the battlefield between St Leger and Bapaume.
On October 10, 1918, Henry Kerslake informed the Watch Committee that Constable Brenchley had been killed in action and that he had expressed the Committee's sympathy to his widow. He was directed to continue the payment of the War Service Allowance to Mrs Brenchley until the next meeting.
On July 16, 1920, we know, from a declaration that she signed for Army records, that Kate Brenchley was then still living at 99 Moseley Street, Southend. Sad to say her two children were shown to be residing at The Provincial Police Orphanage, Redhill, Surrey.
George Brenchley, together with Constable George Shipgood, is also commemorated with others from the Southchurch area who gave their lives in The Great War, on a memorial displayed inside Trinity Church, Southchurch Boulevard, Southend.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.