Copyright of Lt. Col. Edward DeSantis (Rtd)

Jacob Brooks and family

 

Jacob Brooks was born on the 1st of February 1887 at Greenhill, Wirksworth, Derbyshire. He was the eldest son of William and Mary (formerly Else) Brooks of 18 Chapel Lane, Wirksworth. Jacob had two sisters and two brothers; Florence (b. 1885), Ada (b. 1889), James (b. 1891), and William (b. 1896). Jacob's father worked as a quarryman in Wirksworth, the former capital of the lead-mining district of Low Peak. When Jacob was old enough, he too went to work in the quarries.

Middleton by Wirksworth (Hopton Wood) Quarry c.1920

 

On the 12th of April 1908 Jacob married Martha Ellen Byard, aged 23, at St. Mary's Parish Church in Wirksworth. Martha Ellen was employed as a mill hand at the time of their marriage. Jacob left the quarries two years later to join the Derby Borough Police Force on the 10th of March 1910. He and his wife moved to Derby where they resided at 29 Fleet Street. During this period they had a son, Jacob, Jr. Constable Brooks remained with the Derby Police Force until the 20th of November 1915 when he enlisted as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers.

 

Interior of St Mary's Church, Wirksworth, Derbyshire, England

 

Service at Home and in Ireland

Sapper Jacob Brooks (Regimental No. 1572) was posted to the 1/3rd North Midland Field Company, Royal Engineers. His company formed part of the 59th (North Midland) Divisional Royal Engineers. The 1/3rd North Midland Field Company was recruited from the towns of Nottingham, Derby, Mansfield, Birmingham and Leicester. The company carried out its early training at Shenley, in Hertfordshire, under the command of Major David Benny Frew, MC, RE, who had previously been the Adjutant of the 59th Divisional Engineers. The company's Second-in-Command was Captain B.C. Deacon, RE. On the outbreak of the Rebellion in Ireland, during Easter of 1916, the company was drafted to Dublin on the 25th of April along with the remainder of the division. Sapper Brooks took part in restoring peace in the Irish capital by constructing strong points for the Infantry during the "comb out" of the rebel infested districts of the city. On the 1st of June 1916 the company arrived at the Curragh where it completed its mobilization training. From there it was transferred to Salisbury Plain on the 4th of January 1917.

 

Service in France and Flanders.

On the 26th of February 1917 Jacob Brooks embarked at Southampton for Le Havre. From this port the company, now re-designated the 467th Field Company, immediately entrained for the Somme area and moved into line at Belloy on the 6th of March, in front of the retiring German Sixth Army. Here Sapper Brooks had his baptism of fire, and the company suffered several casualties while engaged in trench improvements behind the front line.

 

The 59th Division (C.R.E. Lt. Col. G.B. Roberts), at this time, made up part of the British III Corps (Chief Engineers, Brigadier-General A.L. Schriber), under the control of the Fourth Army (Chief Engineer, Major-General R.U.H. Buckland). The division was directed to move eastward in pursuit of the Germans who were withdrawing back to their Hindenburg Line. The pursuit was hampered by the requirement for bridging the Somme-Oise canal, and by the communications required over the devastated area left between the opposing armies. As the Germans fell back, they carried out a most thorough destruction, long prepared and scheduled. Not only were the roads mined, but all buildings were demolished to deny their use as billets or as a source of useful materials for the advancing British troops. The destroyed buildings were also very effective in blocking the roads. Fruit trees were cut down, wells were polluted by manure and the carcasses of animals, and booby-traps were set to do as much damage as possible to the advancing British. All of these actions by the enemy served to multiply the problems faced by Sapper Brooks and the other engineers of the 59th Division.

 

In addition to the obstacles described above the Fourth Army had the further problem of bridging the Somme, The 59th Division had only one river crossing on its front, at St. Christ, some three miles ahead of its line on the 17th of March, but no reconnaissance was made until the 19th, when the Adjutant of the divisional engineers, Captain K. Neville Moss, RE, went forward to examine the possibilities.

 

Moving eastward in pursuit of the retiring enemy, Sapper Brooks and his company spent the night of the 26th of March in assisting to complete a bridge over the Somme at Brie, thence proceeding to Estrie-en-Somme, where they were accommodated in water-logged shelters which had been used as a German bombing school. While in this area the company went into the line at Flechin, to hold it against enemy counter-attacks. Continuing to move eastward in the wake of the Germans, Sapper Brooks was fully occupied in repairing roads, bridges and water supplies, and in the dangerous task of searching for booby-traps which had been freely set by the enemy. Halting at Bernes on the 10th of April, the company was given a well-earned rest. Here Sapper Brooks was employed in the reconstruction of roads, preparing shelters and billets for the infantry, and in training for the sterner duties he was yet to face.

 

From Bernes, by stages, the company moved north, still carrying out road and bridge repairs, and developing water supplies, eventually going into the line in front of Gouzeaucourt Wood. It was here that the company began preparations for the Battle of Menin Road. Several weeks were occupied in repairing trenches and in the construction of forward posts in front of the existing front line for the attack that was to be carried out later. In spite of continued gunfire and shelling by trench mortars, Sapper Brooks and his comrades carried out the work most successfully with but few casualties. On the 4th of September the division, now with the V Corps (Chief Engineer, Brigadier-General A.J. Craven), arrived at Ypres and the company went into shelters in the Ramparts. For three weeks Brooks worked on building tracks and consolidating the positions to the east of the city. Owing to the nature of the country combined with the exposed position of the sector, which was fully under observation from Passchendaele Ridge, the work carried out was difficult and extremely perilous. No sooner was a track laid down or a trench consolidated than it was blown to pieces by shelling, and had to be reconstructed. Gas shells were a particular source of annoyance to Brooks and the other men of the company, and caused many casualties.

 

Following the Battle of Menin Road that lasted from the 20th to the 25th of September, the company left Ypres on the 30th of September and went into line at Lievin, opposite Lens. This move was made during the Battle of Polygon Wood, which lasted from the 26th of September until the 3rd of October.

 

 

 

At Polygon Wood the 59th Division was responsible for the capture of a long line of hostile strong points on both sides of the Wieltje-Gravenstafel Road. Brooks, now an Acting Sergeant, assisted in building tracks and consolidating the captured positions at Lens.

 

Lens was occupied by the enemy and Brooks worked day and night with his company in restoring and draining the water-logged trenches and cellars in the front line. Cellars in the hands of the enemy actually abutted against those in which the company worked. Many mines and booby-traps had to be located and removed by the engineers while they worked in these cellars. The company continued with this work until the 28th of October when it moved into billets at Ablain.

 

On the 31st of October Sergeant Jacob Brooks was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field, by 59th Division Routine Orders 737 of the same date. This award was made to recognize Brooks' gallant conduct during the actions at Menin Road and Polygon Wood.

 

From Ablain the company moved to Lievin on the 8th of November and remained there until the 17th of November when it returned to Ablain after handing over its sector to the 1st Canadian Divisional Engineers. The company then moved in stages to Gouy via Artois (19 November), thence to Courcelles le Comte (21 November), and on to Heudecourt (23 November). These moves were all made as part of the Battle of Cambrai that began on the 20th of November and lasted until the 3rd of December. The 59th Division was held in reserve for most of the battle, finally relieving the Guards Division near Cantaing on the 27th of November. This movement was followed by a period of action around Flesquieres in which the company assisted in resisting enemy counter-attacks against the forward positions.

 

The 59th Division was finally moved out of the line, moving back to Denier where Sergeant Brooks spent the Christmas of 1917 in special training for the Spring Campaign. On the 28th of January 1918 the supplement to the 1918 London Gazette contained the following announcement on page 13811:

 

His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Military Medal [23]

for Bravery in the Field to the under mentioned: 490055 SPR (A.SGT) J. Brooks R.E. (Derby) [1]

 

After the much needed rest at Denier the company moved south again reaching Ervillers on the 30th of January, and went into the line at Noreuil in the Bullecourt area with the Third Army. Sergeant Brooks' work in this sector consisted mainly of consolidating front line trenches, developing water supplies, and laying mine fields. The defensive preparations in this sector were carried out with great vigor, as most of the men of the 467th Field Company now realized that a German attack was expected at sometime in the near future. Many men received letters from home saying that newspapers there were freely discussing the probability of a German offensive on the Western Front, and the obvious concentration on defensive works and training made the soldiers realize that their own commanders thought the same.

 

At some point during the winter of 1917 Jacob Brooks was promoted to Lance Corporal, and then to Corporal [2]. Sometime during this period he returned home on leave. He returned to the front however, in time to be with his unit for the German offensive of March 1918.

 

The Intelligence Branch of the British Army had predicted that the Germans would launch a major offensive in the spring of 1918. The closing down of the Russian front in 1917 released huge forces, at least a million more German soldiers becoming available for the Western Front. Intelligence reports indicated that the first onslaught would be directed against the British Third and Fifth Armies. It was in preparation for this great enemy offensive that Jacob Brooks, now Acting Company Sergeant Major, and the men of the 467th Field Company worked to prepare the division's defensive positions in the vicinity of Ecoust. "Those first days of March 1918 were the quietest time I ever had in all my time in France," wrote a soldier on line at the front. There were many men who remember the peaceful days which persisted right up to the eve of the German offensive. The weather was fine, at least until the 18th of the month, and the fronts of the British Third and Fifth Armies were unusually quiet.

 

The quiet was ended in the early morning hours of the 21st of March. The attack began in a thick fog with an intense bombardment at 4.40 a.m. Several thousand guns and mortars opened fire. Along fifty miles of front, it was as though the most violent of storms was raging with the thousands of gun flashes and one continuous roll of thunder. The firing of individual guns could not be heard; conversation was impossible. The earth trembled as though there were an earthquake.

 

The men of the 467th Field Company took what shelter they could find. The lucky ones were able to get down into dugouts where they were safe from anything but a direct hit by a heavy shell. The walls of the dugouts appeared to rock with the explosions of the nearest shells and vibrate steadily from the more distant ones. Fine, dry earth kept trickling through the joints in the roof timbers and candles were always blowing out. But many of the Sappers had to remain in open trenches, huddled tight into corners or little scrape holes in the wall of the trench or down in the floor of it. The shells crashed all around them making it seem like "all hell was let loose".

 

Great hot lumps of jagged metal did fearful things to the men's bodies. Trench sides were blown in and men were buried beneath a tangled mass of splintered timbers, sandbags and earth. The air was full of smoke, dust, fog, gas and burnt explosives. This was when a man's sense of duty and discipline were under the severest test - the officer or sergeant who had to visit his posts and give comfort to his men, the sentry with his body flattened against the parapet, crouched down so that he could just see to the front beneath his steel helmet, the stretcher-bearer, the company runner given a message to deliver to higher headquarters because the telephone wire was already cut. Most of the men of the 467th Field Company could do little at this stage except protect themselves as best they could. The majority of the men had been under shellfire before, but the endurance of all would be tested by this prolonged and intense bombardment. No man could be sure that the next moment would not be his last, let alone that he would still be alive when the Germans decided to send over their infantry. The men tensed themselves to see out the bombardment.

 

In the midst of this man-made hell Company Sergeant Major Brooks, being the brave man that he was, left the relative safety of his shelter to see to his men. The violent explosion of a German heavy shell rocked the company area. The shell had landed only a few feet from CSM Brooks as he moved about giving instructions and comfort to his men. His body was never recovered.

 

Epilogue

The War Diary of the 467th Field Company, Royal Engineers contains an entry dated Ecoust, March 21, 1918, listing its gallant Company Sergeant Major as "killed by shell fire" The name of Jacob Brooks is immortalized on the Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D'Amiens Cemetery at Arras, France. This memorial honours the memory of soldiers of the forces of the British Empire who fell   in the neighbourhood of Arras, and have no known graves. For his service during the Great War Jacob Brooks received the Military Medal, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal.

 

Jacob, along with his fellow officers killed in the Great War, is remembered at the Derbyshire Police Headquarters, Butterley Hall in Ripley.

Photo with permission of Mike Baker

 

THE ARRAS MEMORIAL AT FAUBOURG-D'AMIENS CEMETERY, ARRAS

 

 

Bearing the names of Sailors and Soldiers of the Forces of the British Empire who fell in the Battles and Engagements in the neighbourhood of Arras, and Officers and Men of the Air Services who fell on the Western Front, and have no known graves.

 

Commemorative Information

Memorial: ARRAS MEMORIAL, Pas de Calais, France Grave Reference/Panel Number: Bay 1 Location: The Arras Memorial is in the Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery, which is in the Boulevard du General de Gaulle in the western part of the town of Arras. The cemetery is near the Citadel, approximately 2 kilometres due west of the railway station. The Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 casualties of the British, New Zealand and South African Forces who died between Spring 1916 and 7th August 1918, with the exception of casualties of the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, and who have no known grave. The design, by Sir Edward Lutyens, consists of a cloister, 25 feet high and 380 feet long, built up on Doric columns and faces west. In the broader part of the site the colonnade returns to form a recessed and open court, terminated by an apse. The names of the casualties are carved on stone panels fixed to the cloister walls. Historical Information: The Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 casualties of the British, New Zealand and South African Forces who died between Spring 1916 and 7th August 1918, excluding casualties of the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, and who have no known grave. The design, by Sir Edward Lutyens, consists of a cloister built upon Doric columns and faces west. In the broader part of the site the colonnade returns to form a recessed and open court, terminated by an apse in front of which is the Arras Flying Services Memorial. The names of the casualties are carved on stone panels which are fixed to the cloister walls.

 

Brooks Family Tree

MALE ANCESTORS IN THE FAMILY TREE OF JACOB BROOKS [3]

 

Endnotes:

[1]. Brooks Regimental Number was changed from 1572 to 490055 in early 1917 when the 1/3rd Field Company was re-designated the 467th Field Company.

[2]. Unfortunately the military service records of Jacob Brooks were destroyed during enemy air actions in 1940. The exact dates of his promotions cannot be fixed. However, two photographs in this book show him wearing the stripes of both ranks.

[3]. The family tree of Jacob Brooks is the work of Mr. Keith Brooks. The latest research can be obtained from the Brooks family Internet web site at: Brooks Family Genealogy  (Jacob Brooks is the 3rd Cousin twice removed of Keith Brooks)

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Thompson, G. Personal correspondence, 15 May 1981.

2. Thompson, G. Personal correspondence, 5 August 1981.

3. Thompson, G. Personal correspondence, 21 September 1981.

4. London Gazette. Supplement, 28 January 1918.

5. Marriage Certificate, Jacob and Martha Ellen Brooks, 12 April 1908.

6. Soldiers Died in the Great War. Part 4, Royal Engineers. His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1921.

7. Memorial Register 20. The Arras Memorial, Part III. Imperial War Graves Commission, London, 1928.

8. Certified Copy of an Entry of Birth. Jacob Brooks. General Register Office, London, 14th May 1981.

9. Certified Copy of an Entry of Death. Jacob Brooks. General Register Office, London, 14th May 1981.

10. Whitehead, G. Personal correspondence, 16 December 1976.

11. Memorandum. Chief Constable's Office, Town Hall, Derby, 23 October 1921.

12. Letter, Clifford and Cliffords, Solicitors, Derby, 20th May 1912.

13. War Diary, 467th Field Company, Royal Engineers.

14. Peel, E.E., Colonel, RE. Personal correspondence, 11 June 1981.

15. Deacon, B.C., Captain, RE. The 467th Field Company, R.E. Further Narratives - 59th Division, 1-915-1918, Chelmsford, 1931.

16. Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers. Journal of the Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1925. 17. History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume V. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent.

18. Boraston, J.H. Sir Douglas Haig's Despatches (December 1915-April 1919). J.M. Dent & Sons LTD., London,   1919.

19. Middlebrook, Martin. The Kaiser's Battle. Penguin Books Ltd., London, 1978.

20. Doyle, A.C. The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1917. Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1919.

21. Doyle, A.C. The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1918. Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1919.

22. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.

23.

Military Medal
The Military Medal was established in wartime Britain by King George V on 25 March 1916, a year and a half after Britain declared war against Germany. Its inception was intended to meet the enormous demand for medals during the First World War.
The medal was initially awarded to NCOs and men of the Army (including the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Division) for individual or associated acts of bravery which were insufficient to merit an award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
The medal was not however restricted to British or Commonwealth subjects. Awards of the medal were announced in the London Gazette (without an accompanying citation).
Recipients of the medal, which was silver and circular of 36mm in diameter and which featured the head of the monarch on the front, were allowed to list the letters 'MM' after their name. The number of Military Medals awarded were:
Military Medals 115,600
Military Medal + 1 Bar 5,796
Military Medal + 2 Bars 180
Military Medal + 3 Bars

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The Battles of Ypres

Battle of Pilckem, 31st July to 2nd August.

Battle of Langemarck, 16th to 18th August.

Battle Of The Menin Road, 20th to 25th September.

Battle of Polygon Wood, 26th September to 3rd October.

Battle of Broodseinde, 4th October.

Battle of Poelcapelle, 9th October.

First Battle of Passchendaele, 12th October.

Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26th October to 10th November

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You can view the Roll of Honour for members of Middleton by Wirksworth Primitive Methodist Church here.

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