Frank was the son of Jonathan and Annie Brammer of Gillow Heath and was one of eight children born to the couple. Jonathan had married Annie Buckley at St. Mary’s, Astbury in 1888. The family moved round the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire area and in 1891 lived at Congleton at the Moss. By 1901 they lived at Badkins Bank, Mow Cop. Jonathan was described as a coal miner and Frank was the baby of the family. He had older siblings, James, Hedley, Ernest, Alice, Hannah and Mary to fuss over him. The following year saw the happy event of the new arrival of a son, Thomas, to the couple. Sadly, this was also the year when the family, now living at Gillow Heath, were struck by tragedy.
The event was reported widely in the press – an event of such sadness struck a chord with the population on a national scale. Sylvia Rogers (née Brammer) recalls the tragedy: “My mum was born at Gillow Heath and my dad at Falls Cottage. When dad was only a few months old his father and brother were killed by damp in a footrill at the Falls. After this tragedy my father was re-christened. He had been Thomas Brammer but was re-christened Jonathan Thomas after his father.”
On August 30th 1902 the Chronicle reported: “Biddulph has experienced a singular run of misfortune during the last few weeks, and this last is the saddest and most shocking of all, both in character and extent. A small colliery had for several years been worked on the estate of Mr. T. Cotterill, The Falls, Gillow Heath, and the colliery takes its name from the estate. Instead of the usual shaft dropping straight down into the earth, the coal in the Falls Colliery is reached by the ‘futtril’ method, that is, by going down a decline. As is common with most mines, so here are pits, which for some reason or other, have been put out of use. One of these was on Thursday the scene of a terrible accident. A boy who lived at a cottage near the colliery, James Brammer, aged about 14, with another boy L. Goodwin, was walking near the entrance to one of these pits. Brammer entered the one which had not been used for a long time and Goodwin watched him go down a few steps into the mine when he appeared to stumble and fall. The boy’s father, Jonathan Brammer, who happened to be working in his garden close to was soon on the spot, and called to some of the men working at Messrs. Hall and Summerford’s colliery to come and assist, and himself rushed into the mine. They found to their horror that the mine was full of gas, and it was impossible to get further into the pit than three yards from the mouth without risking their lives. Bundles of straw were procured from the Falls Farm, and set on fire at the pit’s mouth to create a circulation of air, and pipes were obtained and let down to convey air from above. With a strong rope round his body Mr. Hall descended, and after securing Jonathan Brammer, managed to bring him to the surface. A man named John Brown then repeated the experiment and soon had the boy up. To all appearance, there was but little hope of him being restored, but willing hands set to work at once to use all known and available means to restore them to animation. Doctors Craig and Clements, as well as P.S. Hill and P.C. Lycett, made every possible effort to bring both round, but the ‘black damp’ had too surely done its work, and reluctantly, all were compelled to relinquish their efforts – both were dead.”
Jonathan and his son were buried at St. Lawrence on September 1st 1902.
Although only two or three years of age, Frank, must have been aware of the loss of his father and oldest brother and of the difficulties it created for his mother. In 1904 she married again at St. Lawrence, Biddulph, to Thomas Armitt. By 1911 the couple had a daughter, Eliza Ann, and the family still lived at Gillow Heath. In this census, Frank, aged 11, was described as a scholar.
Frank became a soldier in the North Staffordshire Regiment with service number 61782 having enlisted at Burslem. He was later to transfer to the 9th battalion Norfolk Regiment. This was a battalion with the 24th Division that originally landed in France in August 1915, however without service records or a date of entry on his medal card it is not possible to say when Frank joined the Norfolks.
On the reverse of the card Frank had written: “I think this is a bit better, these are some of my mates.....how do you like it. Frank”
Whilst in France, and by October 1915, the 9th battalion had transferred to the 6th Division which had served in Ireland before the war and was then ordered to the Western Front in September 1914 to fight on the Aisne. The following year found them in the First Battle of Ypres in action at Hooge. In 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, the 6th Division fought major actions at Flers-Courcelette, Morval and Le Transloy.
In the spring of 1917 Frank and his mates were in action in the Battle of Arras, with a gallant attack fought to secure Hill 70. In November 1917 the division were ordered to fight in the Battle of Cambrai where greater use was made of the tanks. In March 1918 the enemy spring offensive commenced and this found all the divisions along the front losing their previous hard fought gains with the sad loss of many of their soldiers, falling to a barrage of heavy shelling and the deadly enemy machine guns. The speed of the enemy advance meant the Norfolks were falling back, sometimes for twenty four hour stretches, without sleep, food and little water and always in danger of capture. The 6th Division had been in the St. Quentin area fighting this advancing enemy. They were also to see action at Bailleul and Kemmel.
When this enemy advance was halted in early August, the 6th Division made up their lost ground in valiant actions on the St. Quentin Canal and the old Hindenburg Line. On October 8th and 9th another attack took place in the St. Quentin and Cambrai area and it was sadly here, at the age of 19, that Private Frank Brammer was to fall on October 8th 1918. It was only a month before the end of the Great War. Frank now rests in the Bellicourt British Cemetery near St. Quentin.
The inscription reads:
42609 Private F Brammer
8th October 1918 Age 19
Private Frank Brammer is also remembered on the Biddulph memorials.
Michael Turnock and Elaine Heathcote.
With thanks to Sylvia Rogers and Janet Rogers for information and photographs.