First to fall?

Museum research volunteer, Steve Erskine has been investigating the first battle casualty of the Second World War.  Edward Brookman was born in an exotic colonial outpost, but his service with the Green Howards meant his final resting place is in Norway.

4387124 Drummer Edward William Brookman came from a long line of soldiers.

His grandfather, William, a native of Halifax, is listed in the Army Marriage Register of May 1883, as a Sergeant in the West Riding Regiment.  Edward’s father, Albert was born in Wiltshire, no doubt during a military posting, also served with the 1st Battalion of the West Riding Regiment and later the West Yorkshire Regiment, attaining the rank of Corporal. Discharged in the early 1920s Albert became a postman in civilian life, however, by the time of the 1939 Register, he is listed simply as a disabled ex-soldier.

Reflecting his father’s service overseas, Edward Brookman was born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1915, but at the time of his enlistment was living in Huddersfield. As a boy soldier Edward played a full part in the pre-war regimental life, for example, being part of the Boys’ Football Team in 1932.

Edward is standing, third from left.

Posted to the 1st Battalion, and now a ‘proper’ soldier, Edward went with his unit to France on 4th October 1940 and sat out the cold winter of 1940-41 in positions around Armentières and Metz before returning to the UK on 17th April 1940.  Eight days later, he and his unit left Rosyth for Norway.

The fighting in Norway was confused and poorly co-ordinated. Just getting to the front line was fraught with danger, constant air attacks broke up British and Norwegian movements. Lacking even skis, the Green Howards were forced to stick to the roads on the steep valley floors, whilst the Germans who had winter equipment, could use wooded slopes to outflank and drive in Green Howard posts. The British also lacked heavy weapons and air cover.

As the regimental historian of the campaign noted, “With complete command of the air the Germans made full use of adventitious methods of harassing the British troops. These were provided by the natural features of the country. They frequently bombed the tops of mountains along the sides of the valley in order to bring down avalanches upon the troops below….The enemy also made good use of incendiary bombs, setting the forest alight on more than one occasion.”

The Green Howards made it as far west as Otta and held off enemy forces, eventually fighting its way back to embarkation ports such as Aandalsnes.

Edward Brookman was listed as missing on 25 April. This makes it likely he was the first of the regiment’s soldiers to die in battle in The Second Word War.  Between 25th and 28th April the Regiment was in action constantly, the conditions made worse by the ‘light nights’ in Norway during April when the sun rose about 0400hrs and did not set until around 2200hrs, giving the enemy plenty of operational time to strike.

The Nord-Sel Churchyard Cemetery

Exactly when Edward died is unknown, but his body was found on 11 June and The Commonwealth War Graves Commission note his death as some time between 25th April and 11th June.

Edward lies with 25 other men from the Green Howards, in Nord-Sel Churchyard Cemetery, 300 miles north of Oslo, his headstone is inscribed: I FIND A HOME A RESTING PLACE LORD, IN THY SACRED HEART.

Visit our online exhibition marking the 80th anniversary of the regiment’s Norwegian campaign.

Volunteer research helps us bring you stories like this.  If you enjoyed reading this piece, why not make a donation to support the museum.