Whilst listed on the Rugby Memorial Gates as J. J. Brooke, it should be noted that the family surname is spelt variously in official documents as either Brooks or Brookes. Where it can be established that it was written by a family member, e.g. in the 1911 census return, ‘Brooks’ was generally used.
John James Brooks was born on 22 April 1896 in New Bilton, Rugby, the eldest of seven children of John Brooks (b.1868 in Swinford, Leicestershire), labourer, and Sarah Ann, née Webb, Brooks (b.1872 in Long Lawford, Warwickshire). He was baptised at St Oswald’s Church and the 1901 and 1911 census returns show John James living with his parents at 41 Lawford Road, New Bilton.
Unfortunately no Service Record has survived for John James, but it seems that he joined up in Rugby, and his Medal Card shows only that he served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (R.War.R) as a private with the Regimental Number: 28542. There is no date on his Medal Card for when he went to France, and he did not receive the 1914-15 Star, suggesting he went to France after the end of 1915, but this may have been some time after he had joined up.
However, the WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, do show that he served as a private with the same regimental number in three separate Battalions (Bns.): the 2nd/7th Bn. R.War.R.; the 11th Bn. R.War.R.; and finally the 1st Bn. R.War.R.. Exactly when he was with each these Battalions is unknown, however inspection of the three Battalions’ War Diaries can be of some assistance.
He was certainly in action on 1 August 1916. The Rugby Advertiser reported,
Mr J Brooks, 41 Lawford Road, New Bilton, has received an intimation that his son, Pte J Brooks, of the Royal Warwicks, was wounded on the 1st of August. He was hit in the leg by shrapnel, and sustained a fractured bone. He is at present in hospital at Nottingham, where he is progressing favourably.
His first Battalion, the 2nd/7th R.War.R. was probably where he received his training. Whilst formed at Coventry, in October 1914, they went to the Chelmsford area in March 1915, and became the 182nd Brigade, in the 61st (South Midland) Division in August 1915. They were on Salisbury Plain in March 1916 and landed in France on 21 May 1916. By examining the Regimental Diary it seems that on 1 August 1916, when John James was wounded, the 2nd/7th R.War.R. were at La Gorgue, some 20 miles south of Poperinge, and well away from the Somme which was then the focus of action. It was reported to be ‘very quiet’, and this suggests that he was not in this Battalion on that date.
It seems likely that by 1916, he had already joined the 11th Battalion which was formed at Warwick in October 1914, and was attached to 24th Division on the South Downs. They then joined 112th Brigade, 37th Division in April 1915 on Salisbury Plain and went to France on 30 July 1915. The Battalion War Diary entry for 1 August 1916, stated that they were taking part in the Battle of the Somme, and had been training, near Becourt Wood, when between 10 and 11am …
‘Hostile H.E. shells from a heavy gun dropped & exploded in quick succession among the Companies in close bivouacs, involving many casualties before the Batt. Could take cover in the adjoining trenches allotted to the Companies. 3 Officers … were wounded, O.R.s Killed 10, Wounded 37, Missing 2, Total 52. Previous to this date no serious shelling of the wood had taken place. The Batt was at once moved about 300yds outside the eastern edge of the wood, where a line of good deep trenches exist.’
This would seem to be a stronger possibility for his Battalion.
The other alternative, the 1st Battalion was quiet on 1 August 1916, ‘… Yser Canal Bank … Beautiful day … Dark night, very quiet’. This would therefore also support John James being with the 11th Bn. on 1 August 1916 when he was wounded by the shelling which was recorded in the 11th Bn. War Diary.
After being wounded, John James Brooks was evacuated to UK, and hospital at Nottingham. It seems that when he recovered he returned to France and probably then, or perhaps later, was posted to the 1st Battalion.
On 4 August 1914, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment had been stationed at Shorncliffe as part of the 10th Brigade of the 4th Division, and on 22 August 1914 they mobilised for war and landed in France. The Division took place in many actions on the Western Front from 1914 to 1916, when they fought in the Battle of Albert, and the Battle of Le Transloy. If John James had recovered from his wounds and joined the 1st Bn. during 1917, he would have taken part in the First and Third Battles of the Scarpe, the Battle of Polygon Wood, the Battle of Broodseinde, the Battle of Poelcapelle, and the First Battle of Passchendaele.
During 1918, when John James Brooks was almost certainly with the 1st Battalion, they were involved in the First Battle of Arras, the Battle of Hazebrouck, the Battle of Bethune on 18 April 1918, the Advance in Flanders, and the further Battle of the Scarpe from 26 to 30 August 1918. This later period was part of what developed into an advance, and became known as the Allies’ ‘Hundred Days Offensive’, and pushed back the German Armies along an extended front until the Armistice was declared.
The 1st Battalion War Diaries are to be found with the within the records of the 4th Division at The National Archives and on-line. The events recorded in the Diary, for the last few days before John James Brookes was killed are summarised below. Another Rugby soldier, Cecil Austin, who was also in the 1st R.War.R. was killed on the same day as John James Brooks.
26 August – Very wet day … Battalion is to carry out training for the attack … At about 2.30pm a ‘Warning Order’ … to be prepared to move that same night … to proceed by march route at 7pm to MONT ST ELOI area, a distance of about 16 miles …
27 August – Fine day. Battalion rests after the march. …
28 August – Wet day. Orders … to relieve the 5th Bn Canadian Mounted Rifles at night in front of VIS-EN-ARTOIS. Battalion embus at MONT ST ELOI at noon & procede to ARRAS, [about 6 miles] … then marches to assembly area at FEUCHY CHAPEL [about 5 miles from Arras, and the same to Vis-en-Artois] … at 6.30pm Coys. move forward … keeping MOINCHY LE PREUX on the north … and relief is gradually carried out. Hostile artillery is very severe … & we suffer casualties. Relief complete about 2.30am. …
29 August – Fine day. Enemy artillery continues very active … Battalion is ordered to clear REMY village with artillery cooperation. … At 8pm a ‘Warning Order’ for the attack is issued. …
30 August – … Battalion is to move forward into assembly positions S.E. of REMY WOOD & VILLAGE. Coys dribble forward, but the movement is observed & a heavy Machine Gun & Artillery barrage is put down. B & C Coys are much disorganised & suffer severe casualties. … Our artillery is asked to shell opposite ridge & hostile fire is considerably reduced. … D Coy … get into position with only a few casualties. At noon the C.O. … receives instructions to attack at 4pm, … Orders are issued, but it is impossible to promulgate these effectively. Capt Mauncell M.C. takes his Coy & elements of A B & C. forward … They have to cross a stream & swamp, some of the men wading through waist deep in mud & water. Line of 2nd objective is reached without much opposition on the part of the enemy, a number of whom were shot down as they attempted to run away. … Owing to delay in crossing river & swamp, the artillery barrage gets too far ahead. This … prevents 3 objectives being taken. Capt. WGB Edmonds MC collects about 60 stragglers & takes them up to reinforce … At midnight orders are received that the Battalion is to be relieved … before dawn. …. Relief is completed about 4.30am, the Battalion comes back into support …
31 August – Coys are reorganised … Owing to reduced strength of the Battn. …
During the three days, 29-31 August, the Battalion lost 2 officers and 21 O.R.s killed and 5 officers and 157 O.R.s wounded, with 24 O.R.s missing.
Among those O.R.s ‘Killed in Action’ during the attack on Rémy on 30 August 1918, was John James Brooks. He was 22 years old. John James Brooks’s body was not found or not identified, and he is now remembered, as ‘Brookes’ on Panel 3 of the Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
Vis-en-Artois and Haucourt are villages on the road from Arras to Cambrai, about 10 kilometres south-east of Arras. The Vis-en-Artois Cemetery and Memorial are west of the village of Haucourt. Vis-En-Artois and Haucourt were taken by the Canadian Corps on 27 August 1918. The cemetery was begun immediately afterwards and was used by fighting units and field ambulances until the middle of October. It was increased after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from the battlefields of April-June 1917, August and September 1918, and from the smaller cemeteries in the neighbourhood. … The cemetery was designed by J R Truelove. At the far end of the Cemetery, the Vis-en-Artois Memorial bears the names of over 9,000 men who fell in the period from 8 August 1918 to the date of the Armistice in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, and who have no known grave. They belonged to the forces of Great Britain and Ireland and South Africa; the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces being commemorated on other memorials to the missing.
The Memorial consists of a screen wall in three parts. The middle part of the screen wall is concave and carries stone panels on which names are carved. It is 26 feet high flanked by pylons 70 feet high. The Stone of Remembrance stands exactly between the pylons and behind it, in the middle of the screen, is a group in relief representing St George and the Dragon. The flanking parts of the screen wall are also curved and carry stone panels carved with names. Each of them forms the back of a roofed colonnade; and at the far end of each is a small building. The memorial was designed by J.R. Truelove, with sculpture by Ernest Gillick. It was unveiled by the Rt. Hon. Thomas Shaw on 4 August 1930.
John James Brooks’ Medal Card and the Medal Roll showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate.
Some of his colleagues whose bodies were recovered, including Cecil Austin, were buried in the adjacent Vis-en-Artois Cemetery.
In addition to appearing on the Memorial Gates, Whitehall Road, Rugby, where his name is given as ‘J J Brooke’, he is also listed on the New Bilton WW1 Memorial as ‘J J Brooks’. The New Bilton war memorial is by the chapel in Croop Hill Cemetery, Addison Road, and reads ‘In the Great War these died for England 1914-1919’.
A single man, he was survived by his Mother and Father, and his six siblings. In 1921 his family placed the following message in the ‘In Memoriam’ section of the Rugby Advertiser:-
Brooks: – In sacred memory of our dear son and brother, Pte. J J Brooks, 1st RWR, killed in action somewhere in France, August 30th 1918.
“Sleep on, dear boy, and take thy rest,
We loved you well, but God loved you best;
No morning dawns, no night returns,
But what we think of thee.”
Ever remembered by his Mother and Father, Brothers and Sisters.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
– – – – – –
This article on John James BROOKS was researched and written for the Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by Mike Beare, with additional military research by John P H Frearson and is © Mike Beare, John P H Frearson and the RFHG, August 2018.
 UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919
 The National Archives, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls; Class: WO 329; Piece Number: 738
 Rugby Advertiser, 26 August 1916.
 UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 4th Division, Piece 1484/1-7: 10 Infantry Brigade: 1 Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (1914 Aug – 1919 Jun)
 See Rugby Remembers, for Cecil AUSTIN, on 30 August 1918, which also includes a map of the battlefield.
 See Rugby Remembers, 30 August 2018.
 Rugby Advertiser, Friday, 26 August 1921.