Private James Brennan

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Massachusetts.

The grave of James Brennan

As is always the case in attempting to research someone with a common name, the early life of James Brennan has been difficult to put together. It is known that he was born in Blackburn, Lancashire on 30 March 1883, the only son and second child of John and Lucy Brennan. His father died when he was very young and his mother remarried. Sometime in 1893 James Brennan, his mother, sister and step-sister emigrated to the United States and settled in Fall River, Massachusetts, where his step-father, James Green, had been living since his arrival a few years earlier. There James and Lucy Green had four more children. When they were old enough, most of the family went to work in the local cotton mills.[1] James Brennan’s Canadian service record indicates that he served in the United States Army for seven years, which has not been verified. He later worked as electrician. In 1909, he married Mary Garside in Fall River; the couple had two children—a son, James, and a daughter, Dorothy.[2]

Brennan enlisted for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Montreal on 16 January 1918 and joined 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment; he was allocated the number 3081563. After his initial training, he sailed for England on 12 February and on his arrival joined 23rd Reserve Battalion. On 21 June, he was posted to France to the 24th Battalion (Victoria Rifles) in 5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division.

When Brennan joined the Battalion on 24 July it was out of the line at Lattre-Saint-Quentin, west of Arras, training but in the first days of August the Battalion began to prepare for the forthcoming offensive that would begin the Battle of Amiens. In secrecy, the Canadian Corps moved to its new positions; the Victoria Rifles arrived there on 6 August and the next day was spent readying for the attack.

At 1.00pm on 8 August the Battalion moved off in support to the leading battalions of the Brigade, although ‘C’ Company assisted in the capture of the village of Vrely. The Battalion remained in support until the night of 11/12 August when it moved into trenches east of the village. It was during the action on 8 August that Private Brennan suffered a through-and-through gunshot wound to his right calf. He was one of 47 men wounded in this phase of the battle, a further 12 men had been killed.

Brennan was evacuated through the medical system to hospital in England on 13 August. The wound took some time to heal and he was still being treated for this wound in March 1919 when he was diagnosed with an internal abscess. Both injuries had begun to heal by June but, unfit for further duty, he was evacuated to Canada for a continuation of his treatment. After 525 days in hospital, he was finally discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 21 January 1920; he immediately returned to Fall River.

James Brennan died of tuberculosis at Greystone, Rhode Island on 9 October 1920, aged 37. He was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery, Fall River on 12 October; his grave is in the centre of Plat 13, in Lot 211, Grave 4.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private James Brennan

He is commemorated on page 547 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 19, 20 and 21 November. For his service in France he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and the Victory Medal. His medals, memorial plaque and scroll, and the Memorial Cross were sent to his wife and his mother also received the Memorial Cross.

1. (Back) John Brennan (NK-NK) married Lucy Mannigan (also, variously, Managan or Mad(d)igan) (5 April 1859-NK) in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1880: Mary A. (November 1881-NK). Lucy Brennan married secondly James Green (December 1859-NK): Lucy (May 1885-NK); Francis (1 October 1893-NK); Ellen T. (Lena) (21 October 1896-NK); Catherine (22 July 1899-NK), Jane Agnes (later Laramie) (1 October 1900-18 August 1939); and Grace (11 March 1902-June 1973).
2. (Back) Mary Gertrude Garside (3 October 1889-NK): James (25 November 1912-NK); Dorothy (c1916-NK).

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