Barbados to Birr, the story of Sergeant Gordon Brooker, Leinster Regiment. By Stephen Callaghan

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.

Sergeant Gordon Brooker

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.

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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.

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Early Aviation in and around Offaly by Guy Warner

No 2 Squadron at Limerick in 1913.
No 2 Squadron at Limerick in 1913.

In 1910, about six weeks before the first successful powered flight in Ireland by Harry Ferguson in Co Down, the King’s County Chronicle reported as follows, ‘Mr Michael Carroll, cycle mechanic, conducted experiments in aviation in the hills adjoining Birr reservoir. An apparatus constructed from calico and bamboo made one or two fitful attempts to ascend. The incredulous may laugh at his efforts but it should not be forgotten that every great invention has its beginning in failure.’ One week later it was noted that the Engineering and Scientific Association of Ireland [founded in Dublin in 1903] had been discussing aviation, ‘The opinion was expressed that flying through the air was not an accomplished fact, though eventually it would be, that flying was not of any practical use and that men now engaged in a series of experiments in aviation would not die in their beds.’

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Offaly and the First Air War: Joe Gleeson

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2. D.H.4 bomber, aircrew posing with map (IWM, Q12021)

Offaly had a small but significant part in the early years of military aviation. In September 1913 Offaly was an important base for some of the earliest uses of aircraft in the annual British Army manoeuvres; some of the Royal Flying Corps’ earliest crashes took place in Offaly during those operations. Approximately 85 men who served in the Allied flying services were born or from Offaly, but their impact was far greater than would be expected. Ferbane hosted an operational wartime base at ‘RAF Athlone’, and there was a landing ground at Birr during the 1918-1920 mobilisation period.

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The new book, Offaly and the Great War, represents new and original historical research on the 1914-18 period. Lisa Shortall

 

The Parker Brothers of Clara and John Martin of Tullamore. One of the Parker boys was killed as was John Martin on 8 October 1918.

There was very little published work relating to Offaly in World War I until recent times. The 1983 essay by Vivienne Clarke was a first and rare examination of the period in Offaly, until Tom Burnell’s Offaly War Dead in 2010, and 2014’s Edenderry in the Great War by Catherine Watson. And so nearly every essay published in Offaly and the Great War which was launched to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War represents new and original historical research and findings, a very exciting prospect in the world of history publishing.The seventeen contributors have submitted essays that cover every aspect of the war and from almost all corners of the county.

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The McDonald Family of Birr and the Great War: one story of many from Offaly about those who fought in the Great War, 1914–18. Stephen Callaghan

Newspaper report on the McDonald brothers and their brother in law

In July 2018 an interesting Great War campaign medal appeared on eBay, a single 1914–15 Star awarded to Private Frederick McDonald of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The description provided by the seller stated that Frederick was born in Birr, and that he had been killed in action during the war.

Further research unravels a forgotten story, which gives insight into the life of Frederick and his family. It is a story not too dissimilar among the many working class Catholic families in Birr, because serving in the British Army was a source of steady employment and a means to support a family.

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One hundred blogs is a reason to celebrate this September day in 2018

One hundred blogs is a reason to celebrate this September day in 2018. Yes 100 articles, 150,000 words, at least 400 pics – and the 100 stories have received 64,000 views and climbing every week. In 2018 alone we have received over 32,000 views. The list of all that has been published can be viewed on Offalyhistoryblog. We have lots more lined up. We welcome contributors, so if you have a history story you want to share contact us. The other big story is happening on Monday night with the launch of Offaly History 10.
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Birr Barracks WW1 Trench Dig, by Stephen Callaghan

As part of the events for the 50th Birr Vintage Week, a set of mock WW1 trenches were excavated in the training grounds of Birr Barracks. The excavation, which was the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland, helped provide further information about the training structure put in place to train men for life in the trenches. This article gives a brief overview of the barracks itself and its long colourful history. Continue reading

Wright and the other Volunteers: Birr, the Boer War and the Lindley connection. By Rosemary Raughter

This week’s blog is by Rosemary Raughter, an independent scholar, who has published widely on women’s and on local history. Her discovery of a collection of love letters, written 1898-1901, from her grandmother, Sarah Whelan, originally of Roscrea, to her grandfather, Thomas Eades of Birr, led her to research aspects of life in Birr at the turn of the twentieth century.

In the autumn of 1899 my twenty-one year old grandmother, Sis Whelan, was living in Newtownbarry (now Bunclody), Co Wexford. Far from home and friends, she kept up a regular correspondence with the young man whom she had met while working in Birr, and whom she would eventually marry.[1]  Like Sis, Tom Eades was a shop assistant: reared in Fortal, since his early teens he had been employed in Fayle’s hardware shop on the Main Street. Sis’s life was a narrow one, confined for the most part to the drapery shop in which she worked, to her lodgings above it, to the Methodist chapel across the square where she worshipped, and to the riverside paths and woods just outside the town where she walked on occasional free afternoons. Current national and international events impinged hardly at all on her consciousness, which was not surprising: as she told Tom, ‘we never see a paper here’.[2] Continue reading

The murder of Lieutenant Clutterbuck of Birr Barracks in 1865

By Stephen Callaghan

A previous blog post detailed the murder in 1843 of Lieutenant and Adjutant Robertson Mackay of the 5th Fusiliers at Birr Barracks. Mackay was shot dead by a soldier he was drilling, Private George Jubee. Jubee ultimately being hung for his crime. Some twenty two years later a detachment of 5th Fusiliers were stationed in Birr Barracks, with the brutal murder of Lieutenant James Henry Clutterbuck taking place on the River Brosna. Continue reading

Offaly at the heart of Early Medieval Ireland, by Matthew Stout ‘Nipples of Croghan Man sliced in ritual sacrifice.’

An invitation to speak to the Offaly Historical Society on 22 February 2018 caused me to consider whether or not you could tell the history of early medieval Ireland by concentrating on just one county. In the case of Offaly it proved possible.

When written Irish history begins (certainly by the late fifth century) Ireland was a complex patchwork of political units unified by the Celtic language. This Irish speaking culture came to Ireland before 700 along with the use of Iron and other Celtic traditions. A second wave of Celts from central Europe arrived on the island around 300 BC. These were the people that introduced La Tène artistic styles into Ireland.

Much of what we know about these people comes from the discovery of Old Croghan Man in 2003. Found in Offaly near the Meath border, this poor devil was sacrificed sometime around 270 BC. His nipples were sliced as part of the ritual associated with his murder and, tellingly, he wore a bracelet with a La Tène decoration. This is the world that Patrick describes in his Confessio written towards the end of the 400s AD: a world of strange pagan rituals and sun worship.

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