Researched and written by Anne Wright
Rifleman H B Brooker
9th (County of London) Battalion,
(Queen Victoria’s Rifles)
Killed in action, 21.4.1915
(Horace) Brian Brooker was the eldest child of three and the only son of Horace and Susan Brooker (nee Couzens); in 1891 the family ran a Draper’s and Outfitter’s shop in Queen’s Road, Weybridge and they were still there in 1911. By this stage Brian and his sister Pauline had joined their parents in the family business. Born on 20 June 1888 in Weybridge Brian was educated at St. James’ School (Baker Street) of which he was School Captain in 1901 and 1902; he was an excellent footballer and captained Weybridge Football Club for several seasons. His skills were recognised and led to Amateur Football Association international honours in 1909; he represented his country three times in Europe. Brian was also an enthusiastic and skilled cricketer as well as an adept swimmer and rower.
Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 following Germany’s invasion of neutral Belgium and Brian enlisted in the 9th (County of London) Bn. (Queen Victoria’s Rifles) on 21 August. He went to training camp just three days later and had only one home visit of a few hours before departing for France from Southampton, on board SS Oxonian, on 4 November. The following day he and his comrades disembarked at Le Havre. Following two weeks training Brian’s battalion went into the front line at Neuvre Eglise (Belgium). They operated in this region, to the south of Ypres (now Ieper, Belgium) for some months. When they arrived the Germans had just failed to capture Ypres and so had been denied access to the Channel ports.
During February 1915 they were fortunate to have some respite from the front line and there was even time to play football which must have been especially enjoyable for Brian. By the end of March they were in the trenches at Ypres and in the middle of April spent time trying to strengthen the ramparts of the city. Between 20-22 April they were sent to occupy trenches at Hill 60 (south-east of Ypres).This man made hill, standing just one hundred and fifty feet was one of the few high points in the area and was bitterly fought over because whoever held it had excellent views in all directions. Ironically, it was known locally, before the war, as ‘Cote des Amants’ or ‘Lovers’ Knoll’. The Germans had been driven from the summit twice by the 19 April; Brian Booker was killed on 21 April as his platoon raced across open ground in a bayonet charge to take a small German trench. He was 26 years old. His comrade, Rifleman Barry, recalled: ‘ I have been closely associated with Brian since we came out in November last, and during the dreary months of bad weather in the trenches his cheery influence did much to keep us going.’ Another comrade, Rifleman Ashlow, wrote that Brian was ‘…always kind and brave as a lion.’ The Germans launched the second Battle of Ypres on 22 April and re-took Hill 60 on 6 May. However, they never took Ypres.
In his last letter home, dated 14 April, Brian gave his family a glimpse of the perils of early twentieth century warfare when he spoke of Zeppelins dropping bombs just two hundred yards from British positions and creating holes twenty-four feet in diameter.
Brian Brooker is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial (Panel 54), Ypres with 54,888 others, who like him, have no known grave. His grieving family sponsored the figure of Bishop William of Wykeham in the Triptych in the All Souls Chapel in St. James’ Church in Weybridge.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – London Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
UK, De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914-1924, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School. Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Brian Brooker Killed, Surrey Advertiser, Saturday, 8 May 1915
Brian Brooker’s Death, Surrey Advertiser, Saturday 15 May 1918
Gifts to All Souls Chapel, St James and St Michael and All Angels Parish Records, Surrey History Centre, 3204/10/8