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The Fallen of Kirkby

William Nicholson Brockbank

  • Of Sandside, son of Henry and Jane Brockbank.
  • Private W/929, 13th Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment.
  • Killed in action near Ploegsteert, Belgium on 18th November 1915, aged 25.
  • Buried in Tancrez Farm Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium.

William Brockbank was living in Sandside with his widowed mother, Jane, and his younger brother, Thomas, when Lord Leverhulme made his appeal for volunteers to enlist in a new battalion in September 1914. It looks as though both brothers set off together to Port Sunlight, and if so one can only imagine their mother’s feelings, having lost her husband at a young age, and her two remaining men going off to war. (Kirkby had already lost four men, Preston, R. Knight, Grigg and Sykes by the time William finished his training in England in September 1915.)

As it happened, Thomas was found to be medically unfit and discharged from the army after a month. He had been an engine cleaner on the Furness Railway and presumably returned to his job and, as far as is known, survived the war.

William underwent a year of training in the south of England before being sent to France on 25th September 1915; six weeks later he was dead.

The autumn of 1915 was particularly wet in Flanders, making conditions in the trenches even more difficult than usual: often the men were thigh deep in water, and parapets were continually falling in. The War Diary of the 13th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment refers to men having to pump out around the clock because shelling by both sides had broken the land drains. It was unusual for Private soldiers to be named in the war diary: usually only the deaths of officers were noted, but on 8th November 1915 the diary records:

Private W. Brockbank and Private T. Ellis killed by soft-nosed bullets. Private Brockbank buried 300 yards east of Motor Car Corner at 4.50 pm.

The significance of this entry, and perhaps the reason why William Brockbank is mentioned, is that the use of soft-nosed bullets in war had been banned by the Hague Convention since 1899, because they expanded on impact and caused huge damage to the body of the enemy soldier.

The War Diary entry quoted above is also unusual in defining the place where a soldier was buried: typically there were not many remains to bury after heavy shelling of the battlefield, so men were named on local memorials instead. In fact of the 23 Kirkby men who died in the First World War, only 8 have known graves – another source of distress to those left behind, with no focus for their grief.

Tancrez Farm War Cemetery, south of Ploegsteert, Belgium
Tancrez Farm War Cemetery, south of Ploegsteert, Belgium
Tancrez Farm War Cemetery, south of Ploegsteert, Belgium
Tancrez Farm War Cemetery, south of Ploegsteert, Belgium
Perhaps not one of the more beautiful war cemeteries, but at least William Nicholson Brockbank of Sandside has a known grave.
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