Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Major John George Brew

THANKS TO THOSE of you who responded to an article in the last Kerr’s Corner on Major John George Brew, who in 1902 as a Second Mate on the SS Tor Head, had been decorated by the Kaiser for bravery. He had taken a leading part in rescuing the crew of the stricken German sailing vessel Helene in very heavy weather.

When war broke out Brew enlisted in Portadown, Co Armagh in September 1914. Although a qualified ship’s master, he was recruited as a Private, No. 13975. He was posted to his local battalion, the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, in the Ulster Division’s 108th Brigade. However, he was soon recognised as officer material and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant by December.

Much of his military service was undertaken in and around the Somme area.

I’m grateful to the reader who steered me towards a new book from the News Letter journalist, Steven Moore, The Irish on the Somme. Mr Moore has spent the past thirty years researching the history of the Great War and has paid many visits to the battlefields of the Western front.
His tremendously researched book sheds some more light on the tragic death of Major Brew, who died of injuries received as a prisoner of war in April 1918.
‘Major John George Brew, of the 9th (North Irish Horse) Royal Irish Fusiliers suffered a lonely-death. The 41-year-old was commanding his battalion on the retreat when he was taken prisoner along with a General Staff officer and his driver, both of whom were injured, and MJ Furnell, who was in charge of the 1st Battalion of the regiment, as they returned by car from seeing their brigadier’.

In a letter to Major Brew’s widow, Annie, at her Portadown home in April 1921, Fernell described what happened: “After being searched we were being marched back to the German headquarters by an escort, when some Germans who evidently mistook us for British troops opened fire on us: your husband was walking alongside me and was hit”. After the confusion in the darkness subsided it was discovered that Major Brew had been shot through the lung but “it was impossible to move him without help from the Boche which they refused to give and only beat us with the butts of their riffles when we asked them to move your husband. We moved him to the side of the road and made him as comfortable as possible, he couldn’t speak much. The Boche were trying to hurry us on all the time so didn’t have much chance of doing anything and said goodbye to your husband and he was able to shake hands with me”. Major Brew’s body was later recovered and is buried at Roye New British Cemetery, some 28 miles south-east of Amiens”.

This was truly a tragic end for a really brave man who could undoubtedly have survived had he been given the proper medical attention.

Steven Moore’s fine book has many illustrations including those of Major Brew and his final resting-place. Published by Local Press, it is a well-bound large paperback. Look out for it at any good bookshop.

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