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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

Barbados to Birr, Sergeant Gordon Brooker

Sergeant Gordon Brooker.

Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the death of Sergeant Gordon Brooker of the Leinster Regiment. Sergeant Brooker was buried in an unmarked grave in Clonoghill Cemetery, Birr until the author came across him in 2011 and submitted his details to the Commonwealth War Grave Commission (CWGC), which granted him war dead status in 2012. Sergeant Brooker’s grave was formally marked with a headstone by the CWGC in 2015, 96 years after his death. In the intervening years Gordon’s story has been published, however there were lingering questions regarding what happened to his family. In light of recent contact with a granddaughter of Gordon, I present this special blog post, which fills in many missing details.

Gordon McNeill Brooker was born circa 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 the British Army at Barbados on 11 September 1903, aged 18 years, for a short term of military service (3 years with the army and 9 years in the reserves) with the Lancashire Fusiliers. He gave his previous trade as an engine driver at water works. Upon enlisting he was recorded as being 5 feet 6 inches tall and having blues eyes and brown hair. He was tattooed on both forearms and his right chest.

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 Second Anglo-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. Alice was the daughter of William Brennan and Mary Ann Brennan (née White). She was born on 8 January 1891. Alice lived with her parents in 5, Eden Street, Birr. Gordon and Alice 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 Girl's 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 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, then 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.

Alice, Mary and Elizabeth moved to Bristol. This was likely due to Alice’s brother William living here. William had moved to Bristol prior to the Great War, during the War he served in the Army Service Corps.

Sergeant John McCray.

On 30 April 1921 Alice married Sergeant John McCray of the Leinster Regiment at Dover. Sergeant McCray was born in Colchester, Sussex on 3 November 1885. He had enlisted in the Leinster Regiment at Birr on 3 December 1903. During the Great War he served in France and was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in action in February 1919 (for action in 1918). After the disbandment of the Leinster Regiment alongside the other historic southern Irish regiments at Windsor in July 1922, Sergeant McCray was transferred to the Welsh Regiment in order to complete a full term of service and get a pension.

Alice remained in Bristol until her death in 1954. Mary Elizabeth and Elisabeth both died in 2001.

Sergeant Brooker's grave in Clonoghill Cemetery.

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