Corporal 7731 William Brettle

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William seated, right-hand side as you look at the picture

Killed in Action on Saturday, 24th October 1914, age 33.

Commemorated on Panel 34 of Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

2nd Bn., Worcestershire Regiment. 5th Brigade of 2nd Division.

Son of William and the late Helen Brettle; husband of Hannah Maria Whitehouse (formerly Brettle), of 2, Sutton St., Dudley Port, Tipton, Staffs. (this is really Station Street)
Born: Wortley, Yorks., Enlisted: Dudley, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, 11th August 1914.
Medal entitlement: 1914 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Not commemorated on any Tipton memorial.
Commemorated here because identified as Tipton on 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/929038/

Genealogical Data

1901 Census
29 Hall Street, Tipton, Staffs.
Lodging with William and Ellen Johnson:
William Brettle (20, Boarder, Blacksmith's Striker, born Wortley, Yorks).

Marriage of William Brettle and Maria Tibbetts on 14th October 1906. Their addresses were, respectively, 57 and 55 Workhouse Lane, and William's occupation was given as striker.

1911 Census
15 Park Road, Netherton, Dudley, Worcs.
William Brettle (30, Warehouseman at Chain Works, born Wortley, Yorks), his wife Maria (26, born Old Hill), and their 2 children: William Benjamin (4, born Tipton), and Sarah Helen (2, born Tipton).

Personal Data

According to a family story: William and his wife Maria were at the Owen Street Cinema when a list of names was shown (more likely read out) of men who were to return to their units. As a reservist with the Worcestershire Regiment, William Brettle was to return immediately.

A letter from the War Office dated 21st June 1915 awarded a pension of 19 shillings per week for William's widow, Maria, and two children.

Action resulting in his death

The Worcester Battalion Register (a handwritten ledger kept at Norton HQ) states that William was killed and buried near St Julian. John Carter, a comrade of Brettle's, wrote that William was killed in a bayonet charge.

There is a conflict here, if William Brettle was killed in a bayonet charge on the 24th October then this would have been in the Polygon Wood counter-charge. This is 3 miles south east of St Julian where the 2nd Worcesters had been in action for 3 days before being relieved on the night of 23rd/24th October. Because of the personal recollection from Carter, and that his death was less likely whilst withdrawing, I tend to believe that his death was in Polygon Wood.

After the 2nd Worcesters had been withdrawn after 3 days in action at St Julian, they were expecting 3 days rest. This rest actually lasted 20 minutes as a report arrived of the 7th Division being over-run in Polygon Wood, and that 5th Brigade must advance and drive the Germans from the wood.

The 2nd Worcesters, led by Major Hankey, advanced along the Menin Road to Hooge, then to the western edge of Polygon Wood. There were thought to be British troops in the wood, so the order was to take the wood by bayonet rather than bullet. With Hankey organising the line, the Worcesters advance and "a swift and murderous fight ensued at close quarters" (Stacke). The Worcesters advanced, cheering, and the Germans fell back over half a mile to the edge of the wood. Here the more open conditions allowed the Germans to use machine guns and shrapnel to halt the Worcester's advance. Here the line held for the remainder of the 24th October.

It was most likely in this counter-attack in Polygon Wood that William Brettle was killed in action. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres.

Newspaper Cuttings

Tipton Herald 21st November 1914
The relatives of a smart young soldier are mourning his death as reported by a comrade, although not yet communicated by the War Office. His is Lance-Corporal William Brettle, who married a daughter of Mrs Tibbetts, of 51a High Street, Tipton, with whom much sympathy is felt. The Lance-Corporal was a reservist of the 2nd Worcester Battalion, and up to the outbreak of war worked at Woodhouse Bros., New Town, Cradley Heath. Information of his supposed death was sent home to Tipton by Private John Carter, of the same Battalion, in a letter to his own wife, who resides at Chater's Passage, High Street, to the effect that his friend Brettle was killed in a bayonet charge on October 24th. Mrs Tibbett herself has two sons in the army, and her bereaved daughter has two little children age eight and five respectively.

Tipton Herald 27th October 1917
In Memoriam.
BRETTLE. Corporal W. Brettle (Tipton), 2nd Worcesters, who was killed in action, 24th October 1914. Lovingly remembered by wife and children Willie & Helen.

Dudley Herald 9th November 1918
In Memoriam.
BRETTLE. In loving memory of Corporal W. Brettle, killed in action, October 24th 1914.
I little thought when I said good-bye
We had parted forever, and you were to die;
But the foreign grave is the bitterest blow
None but an aching heart can know.

He was too good in life to be forgotten in death, by his loving wife and kiddies Helen & Willie.

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