Private 8071 Thomas Brooks and his Pals

An Auctioneer in Plymouth sold some medals in December 2020.  The catalogue transposed the regimental number of T Brooks from 9071 to 9701.  I identified the correct number and service of Private Thomas Brooks with 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment.  This is the record of Private Brooks and his Pals.

Manchester Pals

Thomas Brooks enlisted in the 2nd City (Pals) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on 2 September.  He had previously been employed by Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) and it is anticipated Thomas worked in the Drapery Department at the Head Office at Balloon Street, Manchester.

In late August 1914, the Mayor of Manchester had invited clerks and warehousemen to enlist in a City Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.  1st City Battalion was formed on 31 August – 1 September and Thomas Brooks attested in 2nd City Battalion when it was formed on 2 September.

Manchester Evening News 02.09.1914

Within days, the first Brigade, comprising more than four thousand men, had been formed, including the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th City (or Pals) Battalions.  The War Office took over control in the spring of 1915 and the City Battalions were redesignated as the 16th – 24th Service Battalions.

Courtesy Co-op Archive

The City Battalions were known as Pals because the Mayor had committed that the volunteer soldiers would enlist, train and fight together.  Hundreds of CWS men joined the Pals Battalions, encouraged by the business, which supported families and promised to make up Military pay to the same level as pre-war employment and reinstate staff in their jobs when they returned.   The CWS commitments were universal to all men serving in the Military – not just Pals or men from Manchester.  The business spent more than £538,000 supplementing employees’ wages during hostilities.

CWS support was more extensive than the wider commitment to other Pals Battalion recruits. Other men would have full pay for the first four weeks; re-engagement guaranteed; and half pay to wives during a soldier’s absence.

Groups of friends will have enlisted together from the different Sections or Departments at Balloon Street and other branches of the company.  Thomas Brooks and two colleagues from CWS are anticipated to have enlisted together when they were posted to XI Platoon of C Company and received their regimental numbers  8069 Reginald Frank Brereton, 8071 Thomas Brooks and 8099 William Daniel Cann. Both Reginald Brereton and William Cann are confirmed as enlisting on 2 September 1914.  Research indicates them men were employed in the Millinery, Drapery and Grocery Departments respectively.

Thirteen names of men on the XII Platoon Roll of 17th Battalion correspond with names on the CWS Roll, confirming that numerous CWS men served together in C Company. 

 17th Battalion undertook initial training in Heaton Park, Manchester.  Food, clothing, tents and other resources were provided by voluntary contribution from the City’s businesses, Council and charity groups.  This was effectively a private Army, held under the auspices of the Mayor and Town Hall 

Men from XII Platoon. Probably including CWS staff. Courtesy Clive Dunn

The City Battalions were taken over by the War Office, when the Brigade had moved to Belton Park, near Grantham in April 1915.  They arrived at Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain for the final phase of home based training in September 1915 and subsequently embarked for France in November 1915.

Western Front

17th Battalion was part of 90th Brigade in 30th Division.  The Battalion disembarked on 7/8 November 1915. Reginald Brereton had been promoted to the rank of Corporal on 12 July 1915 and  Thomas Brooks and William Cann remained privates.  Corporal Brererton was trained as a Battalion Signaller.

The Manchester battalions travelled through France and arrived at the infamous Somme trenches in January 1916.  90th Brigade served in the front line near the village of Maricourt, with billets at Suzanne.  They also spent time out of the line training and undertaking fatigues.

90th Brigade formed the second phase in the successful assault on the fortress village on Montauban in the opening day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916.  17th Battalion liberated the village with 16th Battalion and 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers. They then held their positions against two German counter-attacks until they were withdrawn on 3 July. 

21 year old Private 8099 William Cann was wounded at Montauban by a gunshot wound to the face and lower left jaw.  William was evacuated to England on 2 July 1916 and treated at Toxteth Hospital in Liverpool.  He later served as an Acting Corporal (45246) in the Royal Defence Corps.  William was discharged due to his wounds on 10 January 1919 and received a disability pension for 50% disability. He lived at 158 Tipping Street, Ardwick.

Manchester Evening News 18 July 1916 © British Library National Newspaper Archive

The two remaining XI Platoon CWS colleagues returned to the advance on 9 July 1916.  17th Battalion was charged with taking the German positions in Trones Wood.  The assault was successful, but the Battalion was forced to withdraw in the face of sustained bombardment from enemy artillery.  Reginald Brereton was wounded by shrapnel in the hand in Trones Wood. He had just celebrated his 25th Birthday.

17th Battalion also took part in the assault on Guillemont on 30 July 1916.  They advanced in support of 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers. While they advanced to the German front line, the Manchesters couldn’t make contact with the Scottish Battalion and they were forced to retired due a storm of artillery and machine gun fire.

The final action on the Somme took place on 12 October 1916 when the Battalion attacked German positions north of Flers.  No gains were made and 17th Manchesters suffered significant losses – including the Author’s Grandfather who had shrapnel wounds in his foot. 

Corporal Brereton had returned to duty and was wounded on a second occasion. Reginald Brereton was presumably evacuated and treated for his wounds in England.  He married Mabel Bees at Cheetham in early 1917.  Reginald was selected for training as an officer cadet and left France on 19 December 1916 prior to being discharged from the ranks on 25 January 1917.  He received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment on 21 April.  Reginald joined 18th Battalion in the field on 17 June 1917 and it is recorded that he served as Signals Officer.

2nd Lieutenant Brereton was gassed on 31 July 1917, during the opening day and 3rd Battle of Ypres. He was evacuated and declared fit for General Service on 29 April 1918. It is not clear whether Reginald returned to the Front. He retired on 23 January 1919, retaining the rank of Lieutenant.  Reginald and Mabel’s first daughter was born on 6 July 1919.  The family lived at 10 Carlton Street, Cheetham Hill and later moved to Didsbury.

2nd Lt Brereton (c) Roy Thompson Manchesters Forum

Reginald Brereton and Thomas Brooks paths may have crossed at Ypres.  Thomas appears to have remained with 17th Battalion which continued to serve on the Western Front.  17th Manchesters took part in assaults at Arras on 23 April 1917 and they were present with 18th Battalion at Ypres on 31 July 1917.

At some stage Private Brooks was transferred to 1/6th Battalion Manchester Regiment.  The absence of a service record makes the dates or reasons for this posting speculative. Anecdotally it has been found that some of the men were posted to 1/6th Manchesters after 17th Battalion had been disbanded in July 1918 and Thomas Brooks may have been part of this draft.  Men that remained posted to 17th Manchesters had been posted to 1st Battalion Border Regiment, indicating that Thomas Brooks was not serving with his original battalion on disbandment.  In such case he may have been previously wounded in the German Spring Offensive of March 1918 or during action at the Spoil Bank, Ypres in April 1918.

1/6th Manchesters was a Territorial Battalion that had served at Gallipoli in 1915, Egypt in 1916 and the Western Front since March 1917.  The Battalion had also faced heavy losses in the German Spring Offensive.  Drafts of men provided replacements and 1/6th Battalion were present when the Advance to Victory began after the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918. After the Armistice the Battalion was reduced to cadre strength and arrived home in Manchester in April 1919.

Private Brooks was demobilised and transferred to Army Reserve on 12 April 1919.  Thomas received a pension for 20% disability due to a gunshot wound to his right forearm. He was 25 years old.

Thomas Brooks Family Life

Thomas Brooks was born on 18 December 1893. His parents were Thomas and Thomasiana Brooks.  Thomas senior was an Engine Driver for the London & North Western Railway.  The family lived at 196 Worsley Road Winton in 1901 and remained at this address when Thomas junior left the army.  In 1911 Thomas junior had been employed as a salesman at CWS.  He had a sister, Gladys, and a younger brother, Alfred; who may have died in infancy.

After demobilisation Thomas Brooks married Ethel Fulton at Winton United Methodist Church on 5 July 1920.  He was then employed as a drapery salesman, indicating that CWS may have upheld their commitment to re-employ returning soldiers.  Thomas and Ethel had two sons, Geoffrey F, born 21 July 1922 and Dennis Thomas, born 1926. In 1939 the family lived at 9 Birch Road, Swinton and Thomas was employed as a drapery travelling salesman.

Thomas Brooks was awarded the Special Constabulary Long Service Medal during the reign of King George VI, 1936-52. The medal may be awarded to Special Constables who were recommended by the Chief Officer of Police of the department in which they serve so long as they have served for at least nine years, and willingly and competently discharged their duty as a Special Constable. Years of service during service during World War II from 3 September 1939 to 31 December 1945 were counted as triple.

The date of Thomas Brooks’ death has not been identified.  Ethel passed away on 16 March 1970, aged 74.  She lived at 8 Ruskin Avenue, Thornton Cleveleys, Lancs. It appears her son, Geoffrey, had died in 1941, aged 19. Dennis married twice and had three children.  He died in Surrey in July 2016.

The Cost

Sixteen men have been identified as serving in C Company of 17th Manchesters from Co-operative Wholesale Society.  Thomas Brooks and his comrades in XI Platoon all survived hostilities.  Six CWS men who trained in XII did not return.

Sources and Further Reading

17th Battalion Manchester Regiment – John Hartley

Manchester Pals – Michael Stedman

Manchester Regiment Forum

Manchester Co-op’s Battle of the Somme


2 thoughts on “Private 8071 Thomas Brooks and his Pals

  1. Bridget Leech

    You seem to have done a lot of research into the PALs regiments. I am his great niece and grand daughter of his Lady Mayoress Sarah O’Neill and was christened after his mother- Bridget. I would like to know how he worked his way up from simple beginnings and what firms he worked for before becoming a councillor. was he born in Stockport?I know his mother was a seamstress and he had a ifrm decorating Edwardian hats. What was it called and how did he become in charge.He left all his money to the Catholic church!! Thanks, Mrs Bridget Leech (Derbyshire)

    On 25/12/2020, 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment on the Somme


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