Name: BROOKS, CLIFFORD JAMES

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Private

Regiment/Service: Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) 50th Bn. (Formerly 3469, NOTTS & DERBY REGT.)

Date of Death: 27/05/1918 Age: 48

Service No: 44902

Additional information: Son of Samuel and Mary Brooks, of Cromford; husband of Margaret Annie Brooks, of 3, North St., Cromford, Matlock.

The UK Censuses record Clifford's life in Cromford Derbyshire:
1881: Clifford was aged 12, living at 2 North Street with his father Samuel, a lead miner, his mother Mary, a charwoman, brother John and sister Adeline.
1891: Clifford, age 22, was working as a Railway labourer and living at 12 North Street with his now widowed mother Mary and sister Adeline.
1901: Clifford, wife Annie, and their 2 children, Frederick and Adeline were living with his mother Mary at 3 North Street. He worked at the cotton mill as a dibber.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Memorial: SOISSONS MEMORIAL Cemetery: SOISSONS MEMORIAL

Country: France

Visiting Information:

Names are listed on the memorial by Regiments in order of precedence, under the title of each Regiment by rank, and under each rank alphabetically. Location Information:

The town of Soissons stands on the left bank of the River Aisne, approximately 100 kilometres north-east of Paris. From R.N.2 (Soissons bypass coming from Paris/Meaux/Compiegne/Rouen or from Laon): Exit the R.N.2 dual carriageway at the Reims exit and turn right (coming from Laon) or turn left (coming from Paris/Meaux/Compiegne/Rouen) at the traffic lights and head into the town. After crossing the railway bridge, bear left onto Rue de Villeneuve, keeping the railway marshalling yards to your left to arrive at Soissons Railway Station. From Soissons Railway Station by foot/car: At the Railway Station traffic lights turn right onto the Avenue du General de Gaulle in the direction of the Centre Ville to the large roundabout (Place de la Republique). Take the second exit marked Centre Ville and bear right into the main street, Rue St. Martin (one-way). Continue along the Rue St. Martin until you see the Post Office (La Poste) on the right and then take the side road on the right, Rue du Mont Revers (one-way), immediately after the small chapel style building. The Soissons Memorial is situated to the rear of this building and is easily identified by its massive white Portland stone construction. There is parking available on the adjacent streets. The memorial register is kept at the Mairie where it may be consulted. Historical Information:,

The original British Expeditionary Force crossed the Aisne in August 1914 a few kilometres west of Soissons, and re-crossed it in September a few kilometres east. For the next three and a half years, this part of the front was held by French forces and the city remained within the range of German artillery. At the end of April 1918, five divisions of Commonwealth forces (IX Corps) were posted to the French 6th Army in this sector to rest and refit following the German offensives on the Somme and Lys. Here, at the end of May, they found themselves facing the overwhelming German attack which, despite fierce opposition, pushed the Allies back across the Aisne to the Marne. Having suffered 15,000 fatal casualties, IX Corps was withdrawn from this front in early July, but was replaced by XXII Corps, who took part in the Allied counter attack that had driven back the Germans by early August and recovered the lost ground. The Soissons Memorial 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.

No. of Identified Casualties: 3882

Memorial Plaque in St Mary's Church, Cromford,

FREDERICK ARKWRIGHT THOMAS GRATTON
PERCY BARBER JOHN GREGORY
WILLIAM BOSLEY HARRY PARKER
ROBERT BRITLAND SAMUEL PEARSON
JOHN BROWN WILLIAM PEARSON
CLIFFORD BROOKS NORMAN SAINT
VICTOR DILLON JOSEPH DILLON
JOSEPH SHAW THOMAS FEARN
JOHN TAYLOR JAMES GIBBS
JAMES GIBBS LEONARD WILBRAHAM
THESE MEN OF OURS BAPTISED IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST FOLLOWED HIM AS HE FOUGHT FOR THE WEAK AGAINST THE STRONG IN THE YEARS OF THE GREAT WAR 1914


The Machine Gun Corps was created by Royal Warrant on October 14th, 1915, with infantry, cavalry and motor branches, in early 1916 a heavy branch was added. The men were specialists trained in the use of Machine Guns, being issued with the new Lewis guns as they begame available. 170,500 officers and men served in the M.G.C with 62,049 becoming casualties with 12,498 being killed.

The Machine Gun Companies took their number from the Infantry Brigade to which they were attached, e.g. the 149th Brigade included the 149th Coy, MGC. The four Divisions also had a Machine Gun Company under Divisional command in June 1918, these were formed into MG Battalions, under a Lieutenant-Colonel, taking their number from their Division, e.g. 7th Division included No 7 MG Battalion, MGC.

50th Bn MGC was formed 1 March 1918 from the machine gun companies in 50th (Northumbrian) Division. The battalion served with the division until armistice.

These mg companies were the 149th, 150th, and 151st Coys, and the 245th Coy. The former three were formed in February 1916 from the machine gun sections of the infantry battalions. These sections, in turn, were an integral part of the battalions. So anyone serving from before 1916 would be have joined one of the infantry battalions of the divisions. In case of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division this were battalions from the Northumberland Fusiliers, The East Yorkshire Regiment, The Green Howards, and the Durham Light Infantry. At the outbreak of war in 1914, each infantry battalion was equipped with a machine-gun Section of two Maxim guns, served by a subaltern and 12 other ranks.

50th MG Company Moved to France and joined 17th Division, 17 February 1916 at Reninghelst. Moved into No 17 Bn, MGC 24 February 1918.

Early in the War a call went out for volunteers from existing Units for the Machine Gun Corps. Pay for an ordinary infantryman was one shilling a day, and that is what he would have been getting; driver's with the Machine Gun Corps though would get up to six shillings a day. Even though it was known as the Suicide Corps or 'The Suicide Club', volunteers were forthcoming. Men of the Corps were so hated by the enemy that they were specifically targeted by them and it is said that they were quick to remove Corps markings if capture was imminent.

By Army Order 414 of 14 Oct.1915 MGC came into existence. In all, throughout the war 288 Coys and 170,500 men served in all ranks.

In 1915 all regiments had to detach their MG sections to form a brigade which would then be under the direction of a major who was then designated Brigade MG Officer. The company took the number of the brigade and thus became e.g. 78th Bde. MG Coy



A Machine Gun Corps post in a barn near Haverskerque during the German Offensive on the Lys, 9-29 April 1918 . IWM photograph. The photograph was taken by Lieutenant J. W. Brooke

When the Corps was formed a selective process was instigated for all volunteers or directed men. They had to be of good build and physically fit for the arduous duties, which would be the lot of the gun teams, this plus the comradeship of six men working as a team and the knowledge of the responsibility that was placed in them produced units of very high calibre. It was insisted from the first that the personnel of MG companies should be of the finest; despite the opposition of battalion commanders to parting with their cream this was carried out.

The strange fact of the Corps was that no man enlisted directly into it, they all had to pass through other formations of the army, even if it was only one day, and were then transferred to the MGC.

The formation and development of the Corps

Early days

In 1914, all infantry battalions were equipped with a machine gun section of two guns, which was increased to four in February 1915. The sections were equipped with Maxim guns, served by a subaltern and 12 men. The obsolescent Maxim had a maximum rate of fire of 500 rounds, so was the equivalent of around 40 well-trained riflemen. However, production of the weapons could not keep up with the rapidly expanding army and the BEF was still 237 guns short of the full establishment in July 1915. The British Vickers company could, at most, produce 200 new weapons per week, and struggled to do that. Contracts were placed with firms in the USA, which were to produce the Vickers designs under licence.



An infantry Maxim machine gun team in action during the First Battle of Ypres

The need for specialist skills

The experience of fighting in the early clashes and in the First Battle of Ypres had proved that the machine guns required special tactics and organisation. On 22 November 1914 the BEF established a Machine Gun School at Wisques in France, under Major C. Baker-Carr, to train new regimental officers and machine gunners, both to replace those lost in the fighting to date and to increase the number of men with MG skills. A Machine Gun Training Centre was also established at Grantham in England.

The Machine Gun Corps is created

On 2 September 1915 a definite proposal was made to the War Office for the formation of a single specialist Machine Gun Company per infantry brigade, by withdrawing the guns and gun teams from the battalions. They would be replaced at battalion level by the light Lewis machine guns and thus the firepower of each brigade would be substantially increased. The Machine Gun Corps was created by Royal Warrant on October 14 followed by an Army Order on 22 October 1915. The companies formed in each brigade would transfer to the new Corps. The MGC would eventually consist of infantry Machine Gun Companies, cavalry Machine Gun Squadrons and Motor Machine Gun Batteries. The pace of reorganisation depended largely on the rate of supply of the Lewis guns but it was completed before the Battle of the Somme in 1916. A Base Depot for the Corps was established at Camiers.

The MGC is re-equipped

Shortly after the formation of the MGC, the Maxim guns were replaced by the Vickers, which became a standard gun for the next five decades. The Vickers machine gun is fired from a tripod and is cooled by water held in a jacket around the barrel. The gun weighed 28.5 pounds, the water another 10 and the tripod weighed 20 pounds. Bullets were assembled into a canvas belt, which held 250 rounds and would last 30 seconds at the maximum rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute. Two men were required to carry the equipment and two the ammunition. A Vickers machine gun team also had two spare men.

The infantry begins to be revolutionised

In 1914 the light Lewis gun was in experimental stage. It was a shoulder-held air-cooled light automatic weapon weighing 26 pounds and loaded with a circular magazine containing 47 rounds. The rate of fire was up to 700 rounds per minute, in short bursts. At this rate, a magazine would be used up very quickly. The Lewis was carried and fired by one man, but he needed another to carry and load the magazines. Lewis guns were supplied to the army from July 1915, initially to six selected Divisions and then to more as they were produced in increasing numbers. The original official establishment was 4 per infantry battalion (and per cavalry regiment), but by July 1918, infantry battalions possessed 36 each and even Pioneer battalions had 12. This very significant increase in battalion firepower enabled new and successful infantry tactics to be devised.



British Vickers machine gun crew wearing PH-type anti-gas helmets. Near Ovillers during the Battle of the Somme, July 1916. The gunner is wearing a padded waistcoat, enabling him to carry the machine gun barrel. IWM photograph Q3995. Note that the left hand soldier has an MGC badge on his shoulder.

Machine gun tactics develop

There are many instances where a single well-placed and protected machine gun cut great swathes in attacking infantry. Nowhere was this demonstrated with more devastating effect than against the British army's attack on the Somme on 1 July 1916 and against the German attack at Arras on 28 March 1918. It followed that multiple machine guns, with interlocking fields of fire, were an incredibly destructive defensive weapon. The German army developed their Hindenburg Line, to which they withdrew in spring 1917, and relied greatly on machine guns for defence. The British copied this. In addition, both offensively and defensively, the MGC began to fire in co-ordinated barrages. The guns of the 2nd and 47th (London) Divisions fired an indirect barrage over the heads of their advancing infantry, and behind the German trenches (in other words, this was an interdiction barrage, to stop enemy attempts to reinforce or re-supply their front), during the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915. This was possibly the first time an indirect fire tactic was borrowed from the artillery. Later, and certainly by the Battle of Messines in June 1917, machine gunners were also employing creeping barrages, with fire falling ahead of the artillery barrage to catch enemy troops moving to the rear. They would concentrate fire on specific targets, or sweep the enemy ground behind his front and support positions. Machine guns for these tasks were generally placed about 1000 yards behind the advancing infantry and were moved up as soon as the enemy positions were captured. Machinegun tactics had in fact, become more like those of the artillery than of the infantry.

Firepower is further increased

A further proposal to provide each Division with a fourth Company, and to increase the Lewis guns at the battalion to 16, was sanctioned. The Lewis numbers were delivered by 1 July 1916, but the Divisional Machine Gun Company did not come into existence until April 1917. From then onward, there was one MGC Company for each of the three Brigades plus one under Divisional command, in each Division.

The establishment of the MGC

A total of 170,500 officers and men served in the MGC, of which 62,049 were killed, wounded or missing.

The Boy David: is the splendid memorial to the Machine Gun Corps at Hyde Park in London.

"Saul has slain his thousands; But David his tens of thousands".



The following details the situation around Soissons on the Monday Clifford died as described by the 4th Territorial Btn. Northumberland Fusiliers Source

Monday, 27th May 1918

At 1am the enemy put down an extraordinarily intense barrage consisting of high explosive and gas along the whole of the forward area. All the troops were 'stood to' at their battle positions, but this resulted in many casualties on account of the shelling.

'the whole front from Soissons to Reims broke into flame, and we knew that for the third time in ten weeks we were up against the real thing. Within fifteen minutes it was obvious that the Hun had an extraordinary concentration of guns of every calibre, and that his bombardment had been organised beforehand in most thorough and accurate fashion. A big proportion of gas was used, about four varieties being distinguished in the later French and British reports. The whole line was deluged with shells, and the front trenches especially must have been reduced to a pulverised mass. (Callin.1919:57)

At 3.45am an attack developed along the entire line with the enemy advancing towards the 4th Bn positions from behind the Ouvrage De La Carriere, in a south easterly direction running almost parallel with Route 44. Fusiliers from the two Coys manning the outposts, who survived the bombardment, withdrew to the line of posts that constituted the real front line on the reverse slope, where Lewis gun and rifle fire broke up the attack and drove the enemy back.

The attack was soon renewed, because at 4am German infantry reformed behind four tanks and broke through the line of posts on the right flank of the Bn, near Butte de Margrave, and advanced towards the Battle line held by "D" Coy and two Coys from the 6th Bn. The German advance was so rapid, the forward Coy on the left flank withdrew to discover that the enemy was already behind them in Butte de Siegfried. The Bn War Diary records that very few men from this Coy were seen again.

At 4.15am the 'Battle line' came into action. By this time virtually all the allied artillery had been silenced and was no longer effective in assisting the infantry. Brave resistance was offered on the Battle Line, but by 4.45am the enemy tanks turned and overwhelmed the right flank of the line near Ville Au Bois and positions held by the 23rd Bde, resulting in the loss of the trenches and the two Coys from the 6th Bn who were in them.

Behind them, in the Battle Zone, lay four small French redoubts, including Centre Marceau, occupied by 4th and 6th Bn HQs and the two remaining coys from the 6th Bn. The remnants of ‘D’ Coy (Capt Allen) and Bn HQ (Lt Col B.D Gibson), about forty men in all, withdrew to Centre Marceau. From here a telephone link was established with Bde HQ at Centre de Evreux. In the last message transmitted at 5am, Lt Col Gibson informed the Brigadier that he was holding out with his HQ and about forty men.

By 5.30am the line of redoubts had been outflanked from the right and the Centre Marceau was attacked in force from the right, the front and the rear. They held out for sometime, but the survivors finally withdrew to the Butte De L’Edmond, a post where all four machine guns had been knocked out by the bombardment. They joined a party from the Divisional MG Bn and made a further stand, but Lt Col Gibson was killed by a shot through the head, while organising the last defences.

‘Thus the Battalion lost its Commanding Officer – a man revered and loved by all. All nerve and will, he died fighting to the last, the very incarnation of courage. A born leader and a superb soldier, he had joined in the early Volunteer days, finally becoming Commanding Officer in the summer of 1915. His name will be ever remembered by those who knew him as one of the straightest, strongest men we have known’. (Callin.1919:57)

At 5.15am Brigadier General Riddell ordered the 5th Bn (held in reserve at Pontavert in the Aisne valley), to send two Coys forward to reinforce the Battle Zone. The message did not arrive until 6.10am, by which time one of the redoubts and the Butte de L'Edmond were already in enemy hands, so inevitably the fusiliers were subjected to heavy fire and unable to make headway. The other redoubts held out much longer; but finally all were surrounded and captured. From this time the 4th and 6th Bns ceased to exist as fighting units.

A few fusiliers were able to escape and joined others from the 149th Bde retreating along the canal bank from Pontavert, towards Concevreux. The 4th Bn administrative and transport coys were in Conceveux, along with Major Robb (Bn 2 i/c), Capt Turner and Lt Goodbody. Around 8.30am, Majors H.W Jackson (Bde Major) and Ridley Robb (4th Bn) organised a hasty defence.

Major H.W Jackson, in a letter sent to General Riddell after the war, relates the last ditched attempt to guard the bridges over the Aisne- the details providing a very evocative picture of an army in retreat:

'Well, you will remember the perfect stream of men coming along the canal bank from the direction of Pontavert. I stopped these men at the bridge- there were no more than 2% of NCO's and no officers. I suppose I collected some 200 in due course- formed them up in two ranks and told them off into sections and platoons on the canal bank. There were men of the 8th Division, 149th and 151st Brigades and other details. I explained the situation to all the men as best I could, formed four composite platoons and placed them in position.

Major Robb (4th N. F.) came up about that time. I handed over to him and said I would go along to the left, find out what was happening, find Major Tweedy (Commander ?th NF.) and establish a brigade headquarters in Concevreux. Just as I was going off, a major of the Worcesters came along the canal bank in a car! Apparently a battalion of the Worcesters-25th Division- was coming up to help us. We discussed the situation to the accompaniment of a few 'pings' from a Boche sniper's rifle. I said I thought 2 companies should counter-attack along the southern bank of the canal with the blowing up of Pontavert bridge (about 1200 yards away) as their objective, as I was convinced that only a few Boche had crossed the canal up to that time, but it was certain that the 8th Division-(who I think were responsible)- had failed to blow up the bridge. Also touch had to be gained with the 8th Division. The Worcesters did eventually go up to our right flank but were too late to achieve anything in the form of a counter-attack.'

From the 4th Bn diary it appears that Major Robb and Capt Turner gathered together every available man and set off down the canal bank to form a defensive position at the canal bridge south of Chaudardes until such time as the Royal Engineers were able to blow it up. However, around 9am the enemy had succeeded in crossing the Aisne by the bridges in Pontavert and were advancing down both sides of the canal. With the enemy also spotted on the high ground to the north west, around 10am Major Robbs' party withdrew across the Aisne. They were joined later by Lt Goodbody and managed to hold the position from 9am until 3.30pm, at which time orders were received to withdraw to the high ground above Concevreux.

Details and the remainder of the Bde were then organised on a line running from Concevreux Bridge, along the canal Bank, to the wood to the north-west. But again it was but a temporary line from which the enemy drove them out of around 4pm.

A few of us remained in Concevreux during the morning to deal with what wounded we could. Fifty or sixty perhaps passed through our hands and were sent on to hospital at Meurival – on stretchers, on doors, and on barrows. Nicholson (who had been acting as Liason Officer with Brigade) came in with a very nasty wound in the thigh, but as cheery and as indomitable as ever. The last we dressed was our Regimental Sergeant Major, Fewster, very badly hit indeed. What happened to poor Fewster after he left us we do not know. (Callin.1919:57)

The remnants of the Bn withdrew to the eastern edge of Concevreux around 1pm in order to align with the position held by the 3rd Bn Worcestershire Regt, who had been unable to advance through the woods towards Roucy.

Despite the enemys' use of hand grenades during several attempts to work down the canal bank they were beaten back. However, with the enemy now in the woods south-east of Concevreux and on the Concevreux-Meurival road the Bde Major issued orders for a fighting withdrawal to the high ground south of Concevreux. Here the surviving fusiliers were regrouped and placed under the command of officers from their own Bn.

At 4pm this reorganised force took up position in a prepared defensive line running across the Concevreux-Ventelay road (just north of point 200, where the track crosses the road) (map ref: Soisssons 22 1/100,000) with the 3rd Bn Worcs Regt in contact on the right flank and the Lancashire Fusiliers on the left. This position was held against repeated attacks, but around 9.30pm the 3rd Bn Worcesters were outflanked on the right and forced to withdraw, although they had managed to inflict many casualties on the enemy. The 4th Bn withdrew and occupied a new line south of Le Faite Farm. The enemy was then observed in the northern outskirts of Ventelay, so a further cross-country withdrawal had to be made on a compass bearing through woods and fields. A new defensive position was established south of Ventelay, straddling the Romain-Ventelay and Montigny-Ventelay roads.

'What happened during the rest of that day and the next must be told in snatches. The long string of Transport, making its slow way down the zig zag road to Ventelay and Romaine, was hit with deadly accuracy, and we lost both men and animals. It was a nerve racking time for Pickering, but his coolness and wise leadership never showed to better advantage. They were gassed, shelled, fired at repeatedly by machine guns from aeroplanes, and bombed by the roadside. One thing which imperilled the survivors and the Transport was that the Bosche had been able to execute a tremendous flanking movement on the left, and had come round with incredible rapidity. Perhaps the most pathetic thing about it all was that several hospitals in this way fell into his hands before the wounded had all been removed. Many of those we had treated at the Aid Post at Concevreux had to be reported ‘’ Missing’’ as the result of this'. (Callin: 1939)