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Crimean WarBoer WarWorld WarsRoll of HonourBoys Brigade in WW1
War Memorials

In Memory of
Lance Corporal 19237
9th Battalion Cheshire Regiment
Who was Killed in Action on Friday, 31st May 1918
Age 26

No Known Grave
Soissons Memorial to the "Missing", Aisne, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Soissons Memorial to the "Missing"

Soissons Memorial to the "Missing"1

John William Brackner was born in Beeston, Nottinghamshire in 18922, the fourth of seven surviving children, third son, of George (b. 1855, Blidworth, Notts) and Sarah Ann (b. c1857, Beeston, Notts, née Burdett). George, a bricklayer, had married widow Sarah Ann, the daughter of bricklayer William Burdett, in 1887 and they had set up home in Beeston. By 1901, the family, including their seven children, Sarah's daughter by her first marriage and a grand-daughter, were living at 8 Broughton Street, Beeston3. George was then employed by the Midland Railway as a bricklayer. By 1911, the family had moved to 15 Clinton Street, Beeston4. George was still a bricklayer with the Midland Railway and the 18-year-old John William was then working as a Leivers lace maker.

Towards the end of 1913, John William married Ethel Bletcher, the daughter of James & Fanny (née Lund) Bletcher, originally from Sheffield, who was living in Beeston by 1911 and working as a winder in a lace factory. George, their son was born in April 19145.

When war came in August 1914, two of John's brothers, George and William, were amongst the party of ex Beeston Boys Brigade lads who marched to Nottingham later that month, to enlist. In less than a month, on 16 September 1914, their mother, Sarah Ann Brackner, died, aged only 57. Although John did not enlist at that time, he did so within months, in January 1915, originally with the Sherwood Foresters6.

The 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment had been amongst the first to arrive in France with the British Expeditionary Force, landing on 16th August 1914. Within days, on 24 August, while engaged at Audregnies on the Franco-Belgian border, it suffered a 78% casualty rate, reducing its strength to just 6 Officers, a Warrant Officer and 199 other ranks. Although we have no documentary evidence, it seems likely, over time, men who were joined local Regiments were gradually reassigned to the Cheshires to rebuild its strength. What is known is that Private Brackner did transfer to Cheshire Regiment and, after completing his training, left for France on 15 July 19157. An entry in 1st Battalion's War Diary on 24 July records the arrival of a draft of 33 NCOs men which may well have included Private Brackner.

Although we have no record of exactly when, it seems that, at some point in the next 2½ years, John was transferred to 9th Battalion with which he was serving when he was killed. During 1916, whichever battalion he was with, he would have experiences the horrors of the Somme battles and in 1917 the terrible conditions of the Third Battle of Ypres (widely known as 'Passchendaele'). As John and Ethel's second child, Doris Elsie was born in September 1918, it seems that John was home around Christmas 1917, perhaps having returned after injury or sickness. In December 1917, 1st Battalion had moved to Italy so that, when John was sent back to France in early 1918, he was assigned to 9th Battalion. It was around this time that he was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal.

In early March 1918, the battalion, as part of 56th Brigade of 19th Division, was at Beaulencourt, south of Arras and west of Cambrai, engaged in training and working parties. Based on intelligence from raiding parties and captured prisoners, a major attack by the enemy had been expected for some time and enemy positions had been strangely quite during the early days of the month. Then, on 21st March, the German Army launched its Spring Offensive from the Hindenburg Line with the objective of ending the war before American troops and resources could tilt the balance towards the Allies. The objective was to smash through the Allied lines, push the British forces into the sea and to cut off their supply lines by seizing the ports. The battalion was ordered into position to defend against expected attacks in the area and, on the 24th, after the usual heavy barrage, it came under a heavy enemy attack during which, after an early partial collapse of the line, it recovered and counter-attacked, inflicting heavy casualties. Then, after two orderly withdrawals, the battalion was defending a new frontline south of Greviller where, on the 25th, a further attack was countered initially before it was again forced to withdraw to a new position on high ground and again when that position came under heavy fire. Having taken heavy casualties during two days of fighting the rest of the month and for much of April, the situation was one of constantly changing orders and frequent attacks by the enemy with the battalion resisting well. There were many casualties - in particular on 11th April when there were 150 other-ranks losses. Towards the end of April, the attacks were characterised by violent barrages which included gas shells8.

May 1918 began with very wet weather but with a welcome pause in fighting for the battalion, while held in reserve. By 11th, the battalion was once more in the frontline and attacks continued by an enemy determined to make a decisive breakthrough. Except for a few opportunities for rest, cleaning up and training, in the middle of the month, the battalion continued to face frequent attacks and changes of location, often under very tiring conditions. On the 28th the battalion was ordered to move to a new position, with the whole party of 21 Officers and 550 Other Ranks transported overnight by bus. On the 30th, the battalion was in position near the village of Sarcy. Enemy shelling was fairly heavy by the evening with attacks that were held off by Lewis gun and rifle fire. But, when difficulties developed on the left flank, the Division as a whole made a successful withdrawal to a line just south of the village at 8pm, with only light casualties. On the 31st, now in positions on high ground astride the Chambrevy-Sarcy road, the morning was relatively quite. The afternoon, however, brought a major attack by the enemy proceeded by and increasingly violent period of shelling which resulted in many casualties. The attack was brutal and the battalion was driven back in the face of a the large numbers of enemy troops. In the fierce fighting, the battalion troops were rallied by the Commanding Office, Major Cunningham. on his horse which was shot from under him, after which he continued on foot. After regaining its ground and then being threatened again and again by enemy attacks the battalion was able to hold its position with the assistance of a South Wiltshire Regiment contingent. But it had been at a high cost with 14 Officer and 169 Other Rank casualties. Amongst these was Lance Corporal Brackner. His death came only four days after his brother William had died. His brother George had died in 1915 while serving in Gallipoli.

As his body was not identified, Lance Corporal Brackner is remembered on the Soissons Memorial. The town of Soissons stands on the left bank of the River Aisne, approximately 100 kilometres north-east of Paris. The memorial there commemorates almost 4,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom forces who died during the Battles of the Aisne and the Marne in 1918 and who have no known grave. The memorial was designed by G.H. Holt and V.O. Rees, with sculpture by Eric Kennington. It was unveiled by Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon on 22 July 19289.

Lance Corporal Brackner was posthumously awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1915 Star10. His Army financial effects of 9 8 1d, were paid to his widow, for herself and their child, in two parts on 16 October 1918 and 16 December 1918. His War Gratuity of 15 10s was also paid to her on 3 December 191911.

The shock of her John's death must have been particularly severe for his widow Ethel who was the about five months into her pregnancy with Doris Elsie who was born on 14 September 1918. In December 1921, Ethel married Thomas Tacey who had also served in the Great War. They made their home at 173 Regent Street, Beeston and a daughter, Hilda, was born to them in the following year. By 1939, Thomas was working as a storeman at the Central Ordnance Depot at Chilwell. Ethel died in 1986, aged 93. John and Ethel's son George died in 2005, aged 91. Dorothy Elsie became a 'GI Bride', marrying Frank Warren Spencer at Beeston Parish Church in 1944 and moving to live in the USA immediately after the war. John's father, George Brackner, died in 1937, aged 8112.

1The photograph of Soissons Memorial to the "Missing" is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website (http://www.cwgc.org).
2His birth was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Beeston was part) in Q2/1892(Ref 7b 208).
3Beeston, Notts, 1901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 38.
John William's siblings were Alice Lavinia (b. c1887), James (b. c1889), Harry (b. c1890), William (1893-1918), George (1894-1915) and Arthur (c1898-1905). His half-siblings were Mary Eleanor Thorpe (b. c1879) and George William Thorpe (b. c1882)
4Beeston, Notts, 1911 Census, Piece 20427 RD429 SD3 ED2 Schedule 97
5John & Ethel were married in Basford Registration District (of which Beeston was part) in Q4/1913(Ref 7b 357). Their son George was born on 1 April 1914.
6As his Army Service Record has not survived, his enlistment date has been calculated based on the amount of his War Gratuity. His early attachment to the Sherwood Foresters (Service number 22315) is from his entry in 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'.
7His attachment to both the 1st and 9th Battalions Cheshire Regiment is recorded in the Medal Rolls, but with no dates. They do, however record is date of arrival in France
8This summary account of 9th Battalion's deployment in March to May 1918 is based on its War Diary.
9The description of the Soissons Memorial to the "Missing" is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website (http://www.cwgc.org).
10Details from Herbert's Medal Card and the Medal Rolls - available on ancestry.com.
11Details from "Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" - available on ancestry.com.
12These family details have been gathered from standard genealogical sources.

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