"To Keep in Memory"

Pte. J. Braham

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PRIVATE JOHN BRAHAM
GS/81466, 1/2nd (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers).

Killed in Action, 25th March 1918.
Aged 20 years.

Buried in Roclincourt Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Plot IV, Row B, Grave 2.

The badge of 1/2nd (City of London) Battalion (Royal Fusiliers)
The badge of 1/2nd (City of London) Battalion (Royal Fusiliers)

John Braham was born in Leeds in 1898 and was the eldest of three children of the marriage between Walter, a gas meter maker and repairer, and Mary Elizabeth. John's younger siblings were Lilian Ethel (b. 1901), and Edmund (b.1909). The family lived at Hawthorn Cottage, Seacroft.

John Braham was conscripted into the Royal Engineers, with the rank of Pioneer. Before his military service he was employed at Leeds Forge, so it is entirely likely that his civilian trade skills may have been utilised in the Royal Engineers. Corps like the Royal Engineers needed to expand and grow to meet the requirements of the much enlarged Army during wartime, however there was little time to put new recruits through the rigorous training courses that its pre-war regulars and territorials would have gone through to qualify in their trades to Army standards. The Royal Engineers selected men joining the army who had already got their trades in civil employment or who were employed as labourers in related trades, but they were unwilling to class these men as Sappers, and so they were designated as Pioneers. The majority of Pioneers were employed in road building companies, ensuring that the Lines of Communication remained open.

The grave of John Braham
The grave of John Braham

As the war inflicted casualties on the fighting men of the infantry, their depleted ranks needed to filled, and towards the end of 1917 there had been a manpower crisis as the Prime Minister, Lloyd-George, had consistently refused to provide the men Field Marshal Haig had requested, and as well as sending fewer men than were needed, Lloyd-George sent out men who were not infantry soldiers, thus keeping the infantry under-strength. Lloyd-George had been horrified by the casualty figures from the Third Battle of Ypres and thought that if he slowed the flow of fresh troops to the front, Haig would be less inclined to send under strength formations into new offensives. Lloyd-George's withholding of troops left the British Armies in France dangerously under-strength, and the German leadership of Hindenburg and Luddendorf were planning for a massive offensive in the spring of 1918, bolstered by troops transferred from the Eastern Front after the collapse of the Russian Armies following the Bolshevik revolution and their withdrawal from the war. It is likely that John Braham was transferred to 1/2nd London Regiment at this time.

On 21st March 1918, the German army attacked on a huge front from in front of Arras in the north, down to the River Oise in the south. Large areas of British front line systems buckled and gave way under the relentless pressure and new tactics employed by the Germans. Inevitably the British Army was forced to retreat.

At this point, John Braham's division, the 56th (London) Division had not yet entered battle in the British attempts to stem the German advance, and on 25th March 1918 his battalion was coming out of the trenches at Gavrelle in the Arras Sector, relieved by another battalion of the regiment, the Queen's Westminster Rifles (16th Bn, London Regiment). During this relief the QWRs reported that the bodies of two men from 1/2nd London Regiment had been found in an outpost. This post had been garrisoned by fifteen men and had been attacked by a German stealth raid, unseen by the British lines. Thirteen of the men had disappeared, presumably captured. It is probable that John Braham was one of the dead men the QWRs found as no other casualties were reported that day.

Remembering the Fallen of Two Villages on the Eastern Fringes of Leeds.

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