Photo of a PoppyPrivate John Briggs

2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry

Died 31 October 1914

The second soldier from Wigtown to die in the Great War was Private 12078 John Briggs, a member of the 2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. The battalion formed part of the British Expeditionary Force, which landed at Boulogne on 14th August 1914, shortly after the declaration of war. He was the son of James Briggs, a labourer, who lived at 12 High Vennel, Wigtown.

John died in the First Battle of Ypres on 31 October 1914 from the effects of wounds received in battle. It took some time for the news of his death to be confirmed. On 5 December 1914 the Galloway Gazette reported that he had been wounded but it wasn’t until 6 March 1915 that it reported:

Mr James Briggs, labourer, Wigtown, has received information from the War Office that his son, Private John Briggs, HLI, died from the effects of wounds at Ypres on 31st October last. He was 21 years of age.

On 13th October troops of the French and British Armies arrived in Ypres, passing through the town to the east and taking up defensive positions to hold up the advance of the German Army. From that time the town was to become embroiled in war for the next four years. Almost every building would be razed to the ground by November 1918. On 20th October the German 4th Army encountered the experienced, well-trained soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force who were holding a series of positions making up the forward British Line north-east and east of Ypres. So began the First Battle of Ypres. The Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, Sir John French, saw 31 October (the day John Briggs died) as the critical day when the British line was broken but restored in a brave counter-attack by the Worcestershire Regiment.

All soldiers carry two identity discs, each giving their name, regiment and religion. If they are killed and their bodies found and identified, they are given a brief burial service according to their religion, if there is time. One identity disc stays with the body and the other, along with any personal possessions, is sent home. Many are killed without trace; thus their names appear in thousands on memorials, as does John Briggs whose sacrifice is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres which bears the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.

The Gazette also reported that John Briggs had an elder brother, who survived the war. He was in the Navy and was a crewman on HMS Aboukir, which was sunk on 22 September 1914 by torpedoes fired by a German U-boat with the loss 1,459 men. John Briggs’ brother was one of the 837 men rescued.