Willie Brazil – From Great Western Square to the Western Front

Above : A young William Brazil in his Royal Artillery uniform

Name of soldier : Willie Brazil

Name of descendent : Enda Carr

Teacher Enda Carr lives on Monck Place, Phibsborough, north Dublin. This is just beside Great Western Square where his grand uncle William Brazil, a veteran of the Somme, lived until well into his 90s.

Enda’s story adds to the many associations between this small area and the First World War, with a number of stories already posted here from people living on the Square or on Monck Place.

As it happens, Great Western Square was originally built for railway workers. But it also housed military veterans and, after 1914, there was an overlap, with many rail workers enlisting. Those who returned from war often resumed their rail jobs and were given houses on the square or on the adjoining Great Western Villas.

The old railway terminus at nearby Broadstone has a plaque listing the fallen workers – and soldiers.

There were also fatalities who lived on the Square itself such as Private John Brennan who lived at No 43. Aged just 19, he was with the Machine Gun Corps, Infantry division and died in France on 9 April 1917. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial.

Around the corner, at No 20 Phibsborough Road, lived Thomas Harding, who died at the Somme, with the Munster Fusiliers. This was at the Battle of Ginchy on 9 September.

The Battle of the Somme was a massive offensive, which took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the Somme river in France.

The battle was supposed to break the stalemate on the Western Front and hasten a victory for the Allies.

However, the operation was delayed by some months as the French dealt with the German assault on Verdun. Within this time, the Germans got dug in at the Somme and were well prepared for the Allied offensive, despite its considerable preparation.

On the first day alone, the 1st July, there were 57,470 casualties in the Somme offensive, including 19,240 killed. Included among them, were Broadstone natives John Geraghty of Prebend Street, (Royal Dublin Fusiliers) and James Joseph Gannon, of Royal Canal Bank (Royal Irish Regiment).

The Somme offensive would continue for another four months. In all, more than three million men fought in the battle and one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the deadliest battles in human history.

William Brazil was lucky enough to survive it. However, his brother in law Thomas Connors, from Gorey, did not and in a poignant encounter, the paths of the two men crossed in the war zone. While Willie Brazil was on his way back from the front line, Thomas was on his way towards it.

‘Take these’, said his brother in law and he offered Willie his personal posessions, ‘I dont think I’m going to survive this.’

Such premonitions were common among soldiers at the front line, where death was common and relentless, and especially so at the Somme. Thomas Connors did not survive. Nor did Thomas’s brother Michael, who died later in the war at Gallipoli.

Your own name: Enda Carr

Your relative: Granduncle Willie Brazil

Period of activity: 1914-1920 including World War One

Specific regiment: Royal Artillery

Areas served in: The Western Front, The Somme

Did your family have much contact with Willie?

Yes, we visited him sometimes in Great Western Square and would meet him out walking in Phibsboro. He was a fit man and lived into his nineties. He was from Phibsborough Road originally.

Where is he buried? Glasnevin Cemetery

Do you have any mementos of him?

No, just the photograph shown here. Nor do we have personal possessions of his brother-in-law Thomas Connors.

The fighting at the Somme was so intense and in such terrible conditions that the bodies of many of those killed were never recovered.

They are remembered today on the Thiepval memorial, erected nearby. This is a huge memorial, composed of 16 redbrick arches and faced with Portland stone. The names of the missing are inscribed upon it.

The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the same architect who designed the Memorial Park at Islandbridge, Dublin. (And the Barings Castle house on Lambay Island).

A staggering 72,000 soldiers went missing in the Somme area, from 1915 to 1918. Even today, human remains are still being found.

Once a body is discovered and identified, a burial is arranged and the name on the Thiepval Memorial is filled in with the cement.

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