Private Bert Lancelot Brennen

This essay is about the single First World War casualty commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Oregon.

Editor’s Note: Private Brennen was incorrectly commemorated by the CWGC as having died on 12 December 1918. His online record now reflects his correct date of death and his gravestone will be replaced.

The grave marker for Private Bert Lancelot Brennen
The grave marker for Private Bert Lancelot Brennen

Private Bert Brennen was an American of Irish descent—he hailed from Detroit, Michigan, where he was born on 24 March 1882. Little is known of his parents, wider family or his early life but by the time he enlisted in 1918 he was working as a motor mechanic in Barons, Alberta.[1] While living in Barons, he became engaged to Helena W. Comstock, a California-born chiropractor.[2]

Bert Brennen was not conscripted—he enlisted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Calgary, Alberta on 23 May 1918. He joined the 1st Depot Battalion, Alberta Regiment and was allocated the number 3207145. He had recently suffered from pneumonia and he was placed in medical category ‘C3’—defined as being fit only for sedentary duties at home. Early in his training, on 10 June 1918, he was admitted to the military hospital in Calgary suffering from bronchitis. After treatment he was discharged on 15 June and was detached to the 13th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment on 26 June.

The Canadian Garrison Regiment was formed in April 1918. A battalion was formed in each of the military districts—the 13th Battalion was established in Military District 13, which comprised Alberta and the Territory of Mackenzie.

Bert Brennan’s lack of physical fitness meant that he was ‘struck off strength’ on 30 October 1918. He was one of over 16,000 men ‘returned to Registrar’s records’, which meant that they remained liable to recall if required. In the period after the war, and prior to being formally discharged (which, for the majority, occurred in early 1919), these men were officially on leave of absence without pay.[3]

Soon after proceeding on leave, he and his fiancé left Barons for Portland, Oregon, to look after Helena Comstock’s mother who had fallen ill. Later in the year Bert Brennen too fell ill, suffering another attack of pneumonia, almost certainly following a bout of ‘flu. He died of ‘acute dilation of the heart during an attack of broncho pneumonia ’ on 18 December 1918 at his fiancé’s home at 331 14th Street, Portland.[4]

He was buried in Lincoln Memorial Park (formerly Mount Scott Cemetery), Portland on the afternoon of 20 December. His grave is marked by a flat Commonwealth War Graves Commission marker—it incorrectly show his date of death as being on 12 December. Also buried there is Seaman Donald Clement Long, Royal Navy, who died on 6 March 1943, aged 18.

Private Bert Brennen is commemorated on page 373 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance (incorrectly spelled ‘Brennan’); that page is displayed on 14 August.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Bert Brennen
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Bert Brennen

His fiancé’s mother died a little over a year later and, Helena, who had continued to practice as a chiropractor in Portland, travelled to Vancouver later that year to live with her sister. The family later returned to Portland.

The War Graves Photographic Project for the photograph of Private Brennen’s grave.

1. (Back) His parents were L and Maggie Brennen, both of whom pre-deceased him. No further details are known. His full name is taken from the death notice published on page 16 of the Oregon Daily Journal on 19 December 1918 (see image gallery).
2. (Back) His fiancé was born Helena Waters in Cedarville, California on 19 November 1878. Having qualified as a chiropractor and practised in Portland Oregon from 1913. That year she married Clarence Bonaparte Comstock (6 February 1891, Auburn, California–22 March 1960, Fresno, California), a clerk with American Express Co. She divorced Comstock in 1917, alleging his desertion, and in December that year moved to Barons, Alberta.
3. (Back) Authorised by a ‘Certificate of Leave of Absence’; Militia Form W 160.
4. (Back) His circumstances, i.e. being on leave of absence, resulted in a court of inquiry being convened on 7 March 1919 to examine the circumstances of his death. It was presided over by Major J L Gibson, 1st Depot Battalion, Alberta Regiment, and the details of his death were presented by his attending physician, Dr Joseph M. Short.

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