THOMAS REGINALD BRASSEY
Thomas Brassey’s father, Thomas senior, came from Birkenhead and his mother, Minnie Cooper, from Hoylake. They were both born in 1870. Thomas senior became a Hoylake fisherman. Minnie came from another well-known Hoylake fishing family with connections to the Barlows. The couple married in Hoylake parish church on 9th April 1894. On census night in 1901, Thomas senior was away at sea and Minnie was living in their five-roomed home on Walker Street in Hoylake with her two eldest sons, Harold and Thomas. In 1911, the family were together, now with three more children – Joseph, Eric and Edith Jane at home.
In common with a lot of young British men, Thomas junior emigrated to Canada at some point before 1917 and became a woodsman. On 26th March in that year, he joined the Canadian Army. He is recorded as being 5’ 4” tall and having a 38” chest with a 4” expansion. He had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. It is possible that, in common with many other colonial soldiers, he arrived in Europe via Liverpool. He might have been able to visit his family on his way to the front. Thomas died in the great German offensive which began in March 1918. He is buried near the Australian memorial to the missing at Villers-Bretonneux.
Birth: 18th May 1899 in Hoylake
Death: 20th August 1918 aged 19
Addresses: 37 Walker Street, Hoylake (01-11), Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (17)
Occupation: Woodsman (17)
Unit: 5th Bn. Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment)
Number and Rank: 268126 Private
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H. France: Somme, Villers-Bretonneux VIII. D. III
Sources: BR, CWGC, SR, FT, Census: 01, 11
Thomas Bucknall’s photograph shows a good-looking young fellow, bearing a well-maintained and fashionable moustache and ,thereby, presenting just the right image for a local butcher. The Birkenhead News said that, “His unfailing courtesy and kindly nature gained for him the esteem and respect of all with whom he came in contact.” He was clearly a professional shop-keeper of the old school, someone who, as a purveyor of good food and a dispenser of human warmth to hundreds of regular customers, was a lynchpin of the local community. In fact, Thomas was the latest of three generations of butchers in the Bucknall family. He managed Ball’s Butcher’s Shop on Village Road in West Kirby (see below). Before that he had worked as a butcher on the Lusitania and in Bromborough and New Ferry for a Mr Allen.
Thomas seems to have arrived in Wirral from Derbyshire prior to 1910 when he married Louisa Eugenie Metcalfe in Bebington on 1st August. The couple had three children – Frances Louise in Bebington in 1911, Hilda May in Bromborough in 1914 and Mary Elizabeth in West Kirby in 1916. By the latter year, the family were living at 26 Old Village Road, West Kirby. He joined up on 6th June 1916 in Liverpool and is recorded as being 5’ 7” tall and having a 39” chest with a 2” expansion. He went to France with the Royal Garrison Artillery on 2nd December 1916. His total service amounted to 229 days, only 50 of which were spent on the Western Front. Thomas had written a cheery letter home not long before he died. He was killed by enemy shell fire. Chaplain H.C. Harland wrote to Thomas’s widow: “I buried your husband in a little military cemetery not far from where he was killed. I read some of the Church of England service over the grave and a special prayer for those dear ones at home who are not able to be present. The countryside was covered with snow and it was freezing at the time… I chatted with some of the men of the battery after the funeral. One of them told me of the willingness of your husband.” He went on to give the usual assurances that Thomas had died painlessly. The Birkenhead News added: “Only 32 years of age, he leaves behind a wife and three little girls, all mere babies, for the eldest is only five years old. It is a case sad beyond words, and to the sorrowing wife and little bairns every heart will extend sympathy.”
Thomas was later reburied. His possessions – a disc, pipe, religious book, leather watch guard, purse, handkerchief, pencil case, aluminium ring and a knife – were posted home to his widow on 19th April 1917 and, on 6th August 1917, Thomas’s widow and children were awarded a pension of 26s 3d per week. His widow married his brother, William Arthur Bucknall, in 1922 and his will was proved the following year.
Birth: c.1885 in Swadlincote, Derbyshire
Death: 20th January 1917 aged 32
Address: 26 Old Village Road, West Kirby (16)
Unit: 202nd Siege Bty. Royal Garrison Artillery
Number and Rank: 98028 Gunner
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, WK, France: Somme, Mesnil Communal Cemetery Extension, near Albert III. E.12.
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, SR, BN, Census: 01, 11
Vivian Burchill was a journalist and son of a journalist. It is not surprising, therefore, that his progress and death during the Great War received a lot more coverage in the local press than did those of the average soldier. However, he was clearly a very impressive and popular young man. His was the kind of life which inspired the myth of the “lost generation”, as, during the post-war years, the British people became disillusioned with the war and began to speculate: “what if these energetic and gifted young men had not died prematurely?”
The Birkenhead News made no bones about it – Vivian was a “splendid young fellow standing about 6’ 2”.” The Deeside Advertiser said that he was “as fine a specimen of British manhood as could be found in a day’s march. He was the sort of officer that Tommy Atkins idolises… he acted as a tonic on all with whom he came into contact. Always jolly, brimming over with the sheer joy of living, he was universally a favourite.” Vivian’s father was Alfred Burchill, who was born in Worcestershire in about 1864. His mother was Susannah Mulholland, who was born in Liverpool in about 1867 of Irish parentage. By 1914, Alfred was managing editor of the Liverpool Courier. There were four children in the family – three boys and a girl. Vivian was the third child and youngest son. The family moved around Wirral: in 1901 they were in Liscard; in 1911 they were in Rock Park and, by the time of Vivian’s death, they were residing on Grange Road in West Kirby. After he died, they moved to Hemingford Street in Birkenhead.
Vivian attended Liverpool Institute. He enjoyed sport and became a good footballer. He trained to be a journalist with the Birkenhead News and regularly played in “Police versus Press” fixtures. In 1911 there was strife on Merseyside due to the transport strikes. Riots occurred in Birkenhead and Nottinghamshire police were drafted in. During one particularly violent day in August, a mob attacked the police in Hamilton Street. P.C. Severn was knocked unconscious with a bottle. His colleagues could not reach him. Vivian, then only in his 18th year, “noticed the officer’s plight, and, pushing through the crowd, he lifted the man up and carried him towards the police station, undaunted by the shower of missiles hurled at him from all sides.” He was given an inscribed clock in recognition of this act by Nottinghamshire Constabulary. The selfless deed seemed to presage his attitude and actions during the war.
He joined the Cheshire Regiment as a private in 1914, but was quickly commissioned and gazetted to the Manchester Regiment, where he became a machine gun specialist “… a particularly dangerous and exacting position, exactly after his own heart, for if ever a man was without fear it was Vivian Burchill.” He suffered a hand wound in March 1916 and enjoyed some leave not long before he was killed. Colonel Whetham described Vivian’s death in a letter to his parents: it was the night of 2nd/3rd June 1916 at about 11.15 when Vivian saw some soldiers, who were returning from a raid, caught on the barbed wire. He went out and freed them. He then noticed a brother officer lying wounded in No Man’s Land and went to his assistance, but was immediately shot through the kidneys. The colonel, in the usual way, assured his parents that, even though Vivian did not die instantly, he did not suffer. The Deeside Advertiser stated that “He died a soldier’s death – the death he would have chosen above all.” A remembrance service at West Kirby Wesleyan Church was very well attended by family, friends, former work colleagues and comrades in arms. “His death naturally cast a shadow over many circles of friends to whom he was endeared by ties of the closest friendship.”
Birth: September 1893 in Liscard
Death: 2nd June 1916, killed in action aged 22
Addresses: 26 Radnor Street, Liscard (01), 12 Rock Park (11), Stonehive, Grange Road, West Kirby (14)
Unit: Cheshire Regiment, 22nd Bn. The Manchester Regiment
Number and Ranks: Private, Lieutenant
Medals:14/15 Star, Victory, British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, WK. France: Somme Bronfay Farm Military Cemetery, Bray Sur Somme 1. B. 3.
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, BN, DA, Census: 01, 11
Fred Carr was the son of James Kenyon Carr (born about 1875 in Liverpool) and his wife Sarah Jane (born in about 1878 either in Ireland or Preston). The couple married in about 1892 and, in addition to Fred, had one more child, Edith Mary, who was born in 1903. Fred was born and bred in Hoylake and became a joiner like his father. By 1911, James seems to have had his own workshop on Sea View in Hoylake, but Fred was employed by Simon Linekar, an undertaker and builder whose premises were at 54 Market Street, Hoylake and whose telephone number was Hoylake 23X.
Due to the lack of records, we cannot tell when Fred joined up, but he did so in Liverpool and began his service in France on 28th August 1915. The Birkenhead News said that he “was a fine, big fellow of 24 years”. It went on to describe his death: “he was sitting on the gun carriage with some comrades, enjoying a few minutes of well-deserved rest, when a German bomb dropped in the pit, instantly killing him and wounding two of the others. The sender of the sad news paid a very high tribute to the young soldier’s character and ability and spoke of the great esteem he was held in by all who came into daily contact with him.” The article finished with the words, “To his parents and only sister sincere expressions of deep sympathy are heard on all sides.”
In 1928 his sister Edith Mary Carr married Charles Herbert Johnston, the youngest brother of James Redfern Johnston, a Liverpool ‘Pal’ who died on the first day of the Somme.
Birth: c.1893 in Hoylake
Death: 13th September 1916, killed in action aged 23 or 24
Address: 31 Ferndale Road, Hoylake (01-16)
Unit: A/74th Brigade Royal Field Artillery
Number and Rank: 5146 Corporal
Medals: 14/15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, France: Somme, Thiepval Memorial Pier and Face 1A and 8A
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, BN, GB, Census: 01, 11