A story from WW1: Soldiers a Breed apart

Robert 'Willie' Breed in his uniform.
Robert 'Willie' Breed in his uniform.

In the first part of a two part story, Rachel Snowden and Ardeshir Durrani tell of their ancestors who served in World War One. . .

William Breed (Willie) and Fred were brothers, Willie being born in Lingwell Gate on January 18 1896 and Fred born in Robin Hood in 1893.

Fred Breed and his wife Mavis shortly before his deployment.

Fred Breed and his wife Mavis shortly before his deployment.

Willie and Fred’s parents were Garrett and Eliza Breed, who were both born in Tadlow, Cambridgeshire. It is believed they travelled to Leeds for work in the north’s thriving textile industry.

The 1911 Census shows 12 people living at 10 Jubilee Terrace, Morley. The house comprised of one living room, two bedrooms and a cooking area. The brothers, Willie and Fred, lived there with their mum, three sisters, five nieces and nephews, and their brother-in-law.

Willie Breed

According to Willie’s service record, he enlisted in Pontefract at the age of 19 years and 10 months on October 28 1915. He was assigned to serve with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and was sent to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Scotland for training.

Later, Willie was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (Heavy Branch) later converted to the Tank Corps. This would be the first use of tanks and the famous Vickers machine gun during a war. Willie remained a Private during the course of the conflict.

Willie Breed worked at the Beacon Works, Hailwood and Ackroyd Ltd. There is a plaque at the works that lists the names of the employees who died and survived World War One.

R.W.Breed is one of those listed as survived. It is sad to read that some of his work colleagues and friends did not return to work after the war.

Willie Breed talked about a battle in his tank, which was sent to no-man’s land to fire on enemy bunkers. Whilst in the middle of no-man’s land they were shelled by the enemy. They had to take evasive action and returned fire while the tank driver attempted to manoeuvre the clumsy vehicle out of enemy firing range.

It demonstrated that the soldiers in the tank had to work together and communicate in order to work this new piece of technology, despite being bogged down in the mud and being fired upon with no covering fire.

Willie was the victim of a mustard gas attack, so had to be removed from service. This affected his respiratory system later in life.

Six months after the conflict ended, Willie married Elizabeth Duffield. She died in the late 1920s from TB, a common disease of this period. Elizabeth wrote a letter to her two daughters, Mavis and Elsie, comforting them and telling them that they should play out on their bikes as much as possible. Elsie died in her early 20s and Elsie Bunting was the eldest and died in 2012. She is survived by her son Alan Snowden, whose daughter is Rachel Snowden.

During the 1930s, Willie was employed as a building foreman in Leeds city centre and he contributed to the rebuilding of Eastgate, the Civic Hall and possibly the Queen’s Hotel.

Willie died aged 65 and is buried in Bruntcliffe Cemetery with his second wife Doris, who died four years earlier.

Willie’s great great grandson, Danyal, visits the grave once a month to pay homage with his parents, Ardeshir Durrani and Rachel Snowden.

Rachel is William Breed’s great-granddaughter, who was brought up in Cross Peel Street, Morley and now lives with son Danyal, a pupil at Newlands Primary School, in Middleton.

Fred Breed.

Fred Breed was an academic and stayed at school until the age of 11. He was never absent and was rewarded with a pen and ink-well.

He enlisted in Pontefract and was deployed to the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) 1st Battalion. His theatre of war was the Western European front, the Hindenburg Line. He died of wounds two weeks before Armistice on October 23 1918. He was 25 years old.

He is buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt, Picardie, France.

Etricourt was occupied by Commonwealth troops at the beginning of April 1917 during the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. It was lost on March 23 1918 when the Germans advanced, but regained at the beginning of September.

The cemetery was started in 1917 and used until March 1918, mainly by the 21st and 48th casualty clearing stations posted at Ytres, and to a small extent, the Germans, who knew it as Etricourt Old English Cemetery. Burials were resumed by Commonwealth troops in September 1918 and the 3rd Canadian and 18th casualty clearing ztations buried in it in October and November 1918.

The cemetery contains 1, 838 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of World War One. Twenty-one of them are unidentified.

The cemetery also contains 198 German war burials and the graves of 10 French civilians.

It is not known if Fred had any children, but he married a woman called Mavis.

l See next week for the story of Harold Snowden and Ardeshir’s ancestor Mohammad Hassan Khan.