Sergeant Noel Duncan Braithwaite

Noel Duncan Braithwaite was born on May 5, 1891 in Ashton under Lyne to John and Ruth Annie Braithwaite (née Charlesworth). Noel was the second son of John Braithwaite, a stone mason who became a successful builder and business owner. Noel’s older brother, Reginald, became a bricklayer working in his father’s business but Noel excelled academically and followed a different path.

In 1893, when Noel was 2 years old, his mother died and two years later John Braithwaite married Mary Jane Wilson. She quickly had two daughters, Edith Vera Braithwaite and Reenie Braithwaite, and by 1901 the family of six were living in Ashton on Whiteacre Road and Noel was attending the Parish Church School. He then attended the municipal Secondary School, (which later became Ashton Grammar School), where Ned Stringer was a Chemistry teacher. He decided to become a teacher and passed his matriculation examinations at Victoria University (Manchester University) and by 1911 was a teacher at the Parish Church Elementary School. On November 1, 1910 he joined the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment, Territorial Force along with around a dozen others.

Sergeant Noel Duncan Braithwaite
Copyright Imperial War Museum

He had ambitions to become a doctor and began studying Latin, a pre-requisite in 1911, but his circumstances changed and he instead started a coal merchant’s business employing at least one other Territorial. At the outbreak of war, he was mobilised as a Sergeant in F Company of the 9th Manchesters and proceeded with them to Chesham Fold Camp in Bury where the Division was gathering prior to their departure for Egypt on September 10, 1914. When he attested in November 1910, he would have agreed to serve for four years and also to extend that period, for not more than 12 months, in case of imminent national danger or great emergency. Consequently, he became “time-expired” shortly after arriving in Egypt, but under territorial regulations was required to serve another 12 months. Additionally, as a business owner, he was compelled to close his new business as a consequence of discharging his service to his country and to his credit he did so seemingly without regret or rancour.

In Egypt, the men were drilled, trained and worked hard to build fitness and endurance. Additionally, the old eight Company model (A-H) was replaced with a four Company model (A-D), 4 platoons in each Company and 4 sections in each platoon. Sergeant Noel Duncan Braithwaite became one of 10 sergeants in “C” Company.

Colour Sergeant 237 Henry Stringer                        29yo
Sergeant 220 Albert Fletcher                                      28yo
Sergeant 128 Thomas Langan                                     29yo
Sergeant 76 James Lawton                                           43yo
Sergeant 445 John Albert Simcox                             31yo
Colour Sergeant 154 George Newton                      29yo
Sergeant 427 Thompson Tym                                      26yo
Sergeant 469 Harry Illingworth                                   23yo
Sergeant 1125 Noel Duncan Braithwaite                24yo
Sergeant 1126 Joseph Cox Harrop                             24yo

During his time in Egypt, he kept a journal detailing his activities, experiences and impressions of his first trip overseas and this is published here.

A few days after Noel’s 24th birthday, the battalion landed at Gallipoli under shell fire on Sunday May 9, 1915. Less than a month later, his former classmate and good friend Sergeant Harry Illingworth was killed by shellfire on June 5th. Colour Sergeant Henry Stringer, Harry’s brother-in-law, wrote to his father part of which is excerpted below:

“I am on a sorry mission in writing to you this journey. The last letter was congratulations, but this is to say that Harry had the misfortune to be hit by a shrapnel shell whilst superintending the taking of ammunition on Saturday, the 5th inst. The shell struck him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Joe Harrop was near him at the time, and we got him out of the trench, and did the only thing left for us to do, namely, give him a decent resting place, and got the minister to bury him. I need hardly say with what regret we laid him in his last rest. He was a friend of everybody, and particularly of the lads under his command. He was the first casualty in our Company, and also the first of our school lads. I need not say to you Jim, old lad, what the loss to us all means, but I ask you to accept not only the sympathy of his personal friends, but of the whole Company.”

Two days later, on June 7th, “C” Company was ordered to take two saps in front of the firing line that were being troublesome. Once again, an excerpt from another of Colour Sergeant Henry Stringer’s letters home provides some context:

“We got the order to attack two saps leading to a gully, about 7 o’ clock pm and we were to attack at 7:30. There was no time for preliminaries, and I never saw Noel after about 6:30. The Company moved to position, and I was ordered to go down the sap which lay on the left with my cousin Ned and his men. This sap met the other sap to be taken, in the gully. Both saps and gully were occupied by Turks, and we were informed that another party was to clear the gully before we attacked. This attack was not successful, and led to our heavy casualties. Capt. Hamer, Lt. Wade, and Noel’s men, and Joe Harrop’s men, went over the top and stormed the other trench across the open.”

Noel was the ‘Camp Reporter’ for the Ashton Reporter newspaper and had also contributed articles to the Ashton Herald newspaper in the past. Both papers covered his death, publishing accounts of his death. The article from the June 26, 1915 edition of the Ashton Herald is provided below in its entirety:

The Herald, June 26, 1915

A Gifted Ashtonian

The utmost sympathy will be extended to Mr. and Mrs. John Braithwaite of Beech House, Mossley-road, in the loss they have sustained if their son, Sergeant Noel Duncan Braithwaite, of the 1/9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Braithwaite received a brief letter from Sergeant Henry Stringer conveying the sad news of his friend’s gallant end. In his letter dated June 8th Sergeant Stringer wrote: “I have the sorrowful duty of telling you that Noel, in doing his little bit of a hard task allotted to the Company yesterday, fell in action. Only last Saturday, the 5th we had our first loss in Harry Illingworth, and now Noel and others, including the captain, are lost. Personally, I have lost a dear and near friend, and not only myself but the others of the Parish Company and the Company generally.

The deceased sergeant was only 24 years of age, but he had a wide circle of friends in the town. A man of exceptional intellectual attainments his loss will be keenly felt in many quarters. He received his elementary education at the Parish Church School, and subsequently attended the Secondary School. He decided to study for the scholastic profession, and succeeded in passing the matriculation examination at Victoria University. For a short period, he was on the teaching staff at the Parish Church School. Afterwards he commenced the study of Latin with a view to entering the medical profession, but circumstances prevented a continuance of his studies. Shortly before the war broke out, he became principal of the firm of N. D. Braithwaite and Co. coal merchants, of Park Parade. He threw the whole of his energies into the business and gave promise of developing into a smart commercial man. On mobilisation, Sergeant Braithwaite, who had served six years in the force1, joined his battalion. By his many good qualities the deceased earned the respect of officers and men alike, by whom his death is greatly lamented. Sergeant Braithwaite was a talented amateur actor, and was a member of the Parish Church Operatic Society.

Before going out to Egypt Sergeant Braithwaite contributed several well written articles to the “Herald”, dealing with various subjects.

Sergeant Noel Duncan Braithwaite was killed in action, along with many others of his Company on June 7, 1915. He was just 24 years old. His body was never recovered and so he is commemorated on the Helles Memorial.

The Empire (or Cape Helles) Memorial
Copyright: Harvey Barrison

Additionally, he is commemorated on the Ashton under Lyne civic memorial, Ashton Parish Church Central Sunday School and by Ashton Grammar School.