John William Brant MM

lincolnshire regimental badge

Lance Corporal (Acting Sergeant), 18375, 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, killed in action, 22nd March 1918, aged 22.

Born at Crowle in 1896, John was the eldest son and one of four children of Mary Kate and her first husband John(?) Brant. In 1901 Mary was a widow and she and the children lived with her mother, Katherine Hiott, in Eastoft Road. Later the same year Mary married Thomas Gelder and they also lived in Eastoft Road, where they had five more children. In 1911 John, aged 15, was working as a horseman for farmer Robert Sykes at Ousefleet Pastures, Swinefleet.

John enlisted in the Lincolnshire Regiment at Scunthorpe in July 1915. Unfortunately his service record has not survived so there is no clear record of the action for which he was awarded the Military Medal in May 1917; ‘for good work in an attack and for sticking to his platoon when the Corporal in charge was injured’ . It was most likely one of the two major actions the battalion had been involved in during April 1917. On the 4th supporting an attack on Gouzeaucourt Wood or the 18th and 21st leading attacks on the village of Gonnelieu, capturing it on the second occasion.

On 21st March 1918 the 2nd Lincoln’s were in reserve, close to Epehy, when the German Army launched Operation Michael, their Spring Offensive on the Somme. The first action, known as the Battle of St Quentin, saw at least 64 German divisions attack on a front of around 50 miles against trenches defended by only 19 British Divisions.

The attack began at 5.00am with a massive artillery bombardment of high-explosive and gas shells that lasted for four hours. At 5.45am the 2nd Lincoln’s received orders to ‘man battle positions’ to defend a railway cutting about one thousand yards west of Vaucellette Farm just outside Epehy. They held the position throughout the evening and but around 12 noon the next day, 22nd March, received orders to withdraw to a line south of Heudicourt, as Epehy had fallen and in consequence they were in danger of being outflanked.

Before these orders could be carried out a numerically superior German attacking force arrived. A and D Companies were overwhelmed, loosing a high number of casualties in the process. The remaining men retired to a position just north of Heudicourt, where at around 5.00pm they were attacked again and were forced to withdraw into Gurlu Wood, close to Aizecourt le Bas. In Gurlu Wood the survivours of the battalion staged a fierce, which halted the German attack for a time, but eventually the enemy’s numerical advantage told. Pressed hard by the attackers the rements of the 2nd Lincoln’s were compelled to fall back over open downland, where they were then machine-gunned by enemy aircraft.

An officer of the battalion wrote later:  ‘The characteristics of our men can seldom have been more clearly shown than in this situation. Although being driven back by vastly superior numbers, with flanks and rear threatened, and with no prospect of immediate help, there was no semblance of panic, the men withdrawing in good order, fighting stubbornly and taking every opportunity of inflicting casualties on the advancing enemy.’

There are no accurate numbers of casualties lost in the confusion that day. What is known is that out of the whole 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, only 80 men made it back to the rendezvous point in Gurlu Wood that evening. Among the fallen was John Brant. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing.