The 11th March 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Sergeant Gordon Brooker of the Leinster Regiment, a soldier who for the best part of the last 96 years was buried in an unmarked grave in Clonoghill Cemetery, Birr. This is his story.
Gordon McNeill Brooker was born around 1886 in the parish of St John’s, Barbados. He was the son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Brooker. They lived on a plantation in the parish of St Philip. Gordon enlisted in Barbados for a short term of military service (3 years with the army and 9 years in the reserves) with the Lancashire Fusiliers on 11 September 1903, aged 18 years. He gave his previous trade as an engine driver at water works. Upon enlistment he was recorded as being 5 feet 6 and a half inches tall and having blues eyes and brown hair. He was tattooed on both forearms and his right breast.
Private Brooker served with the 3rd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers in Barbados until 8 March 1905 when he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Leinster Regiment. Gordon’s elder brother Stanley was already serving in the Leinsters and had been in South Africa during the Boer War (1899-1902). After Gordon’s initial 3 years of service he was permitted to extend his service to complete 8 years with the colours. He served in South Africa, Mauritius and India. On 25 November 1912 he was posted to the Depot, Leinster Regiment in Birr, then to the permanent staff of the 3rd Battalion, which was designated as a Special Reserve.
While based in Birr, Gordon married Alice Brennan in St Brendan’s Catholic Church on 7 May 1913. They had two daughters, Mary Elizabeth born on 27 April 1914 and Elizabeth Catherine born on 8 March 1918. Mary Elizabeth is later recorded as attending Crinkill Girls’ National School.
During the Great War Sergeant Brooker was posted with the British Expeditionary Force in France from 1915 with the 1st Battalion, Leinster Regiment. After service in the France the battalion was sent to Salonika, Greece. In 1916 Brooker was admitted to hospital with atrophy to muscles of his left leg and underwent an operation. The 1st Battalion, Leinster Regiment would then later go on to serve in Palestine, and after the war they were posted to India.
After service with the 1st Battalion, Gordon had various brief postings with the 6th (Service) Battalion, Depot and 3rd Battalion. Being a seasoned and experienced non commissioned officer he would have been able to assist with the training of new recruits. While posted with the 3rd Battalion, Leinster Regiment in Portsmouth Gordon was discharged on 5 March 1919 as he was found to be no longer physically fit for war service. Gordon died 6 days later from bronchial pneumonia and syncope in Alexandria Hospital in Portsmouth.
Gordon was brought home to Birr and he was interred in Clonoghill Cemetery on 17 March. This was possibly done at the expense of his wife considering the British Army did not repatriate soldiers; you were buried where you died. His death seems to have escaped official notice of the Imperial War Grave Commission; the organisation set up for building and maintaining the numerous cemeteries and memorials after the war, the name later changed to the Commonwealth War Grave Commission in 1960.
Gordon’s name wasn’t discovered until 2011 by chance when the author was researching military burials of Clonoghill Cemetery. Gordon’s name was brought to the attention of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission (CWGC) to see whether he met the requirements for official commemoration as a casualty of the Great War. With the evidence gathered Gordon’s case was put to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the final decision. In 2012 the MoD accepted that Gordon’s death was a result of his Great War service and his name was added to the CWGC database of war dead. In 2015 the CWGC erected permanent stone memorial on the small plot which had been unmarked for 96 years.
Further research is required to see what became of Alice and her daughters Mary and Elizabeth.