Gerald Montague Brine war born in October 1897, the youngest of seven children to John and Annie Brine. John was a potter, and, while the children were born in Dorset, the family soon moved to the Somerset village of Binegar.
Gerald’s three older brothers all went to work in a local stone quarry, as an engineer, breaker and foreman respectively. When Gerald left school, he found work with the local blacksmith as a striker. It was while employed there, in 1912, that his mother Annie passed away, aged just 50 years old.
War was on its way however, and where his brothers enlisted in the army, Gerald was bound for the sea. He enlisted in the Royal Navy on 3rd November 1915 and, as an Ordinary Seaman, was assigned to HMS Iron Duke. He was aboard the vessel when it became embroiled in the Battle of Jutland in May 1916, and was subsequently transferred to HMS Discoverer.
Promoted to Able Seaman in April 1918, the Discoverer headed back to Chatham a couple of months later. A Somerset newspaper picks up on Gerald’s sad tale from there.
When one of His Majesty’s ships was returning to port, and her crew were looking forward to “leave”, an unfortunate tragedy occurred by which Gerald Montague Brine, a young Able Seaman [and] a native of Binegar, lost his life. It appears that in the course of storing gear, a loaded revolver was removed by mistake to the armourer’s room, instead of to the officer’s cabin, and was placed on a table.
Curiosity led Peter Macfarlane, another able seaman, to handle it, and as he was bringing it to his side from an upward position, he, to use his own words, unconsciously pulled the trigger. It fired, and the bullet entered Brine’s body just under his left shoulder, fracturing his spine and producing paralysis of his lower limbs.Wells Journal: Friday 12th July 1918
Gerald’s parents had a telegram to say that he was seriously wounded and in the Royal Naval Hospital, Chatham. They travelled at once to Chatham and found him very ill, but conscious. They remained with him until he died a week later, on 1st July 1918. He was just 20 years of age.
At the inquest, Macfarlane described Brine as his best chum, and all witnesses agreed that “the best possible relations existed between the members of the crew.” According to the doctor’s evidence at the inquest, Gerald was unable to be saved. The jury reached a verdict of Accidental Death.
Able Seaman was brought home to Binegar, and lies at rest in the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church.
Gerald’s grave also acts as a memorial to two of his older brothers.
Arthur Brine, who had been the stone breaker in the quarry, emigrated to Canada after his mother had died, finding work there as a fireman. The Great War brought him back to European shores, however, and he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, joining the 188th Battalion.
Private Brine arrived in England in October 1916; he transferred to the 28th Canadians, and set off for France the following January. He was caught up in the Battle of Arras and was hit and killed by a piece of shrapnel on 15th April 1917. He was just 29 years old.
Arthur Brine lies at peace in the Ecoivres Cemetery to the north west of Arras in Northern France.
Herbert Brine had been the foreman at the stone quarry He married Sarah Lucy James shortly before his mother’s death in 1912; the couple went on to have two children, Arthur and Kenneth.
Herbert was mobilised in July 1917, initially joining the 3rd Reserve Battalion. He was drafted, as an Able Seaman, to the Hood Battalion, Royal Naval Division (RND) in November 1917, before re-joining his RND Battalion at Flesquières, near Cambrai, two months later.
In early March 1918, the Germans started bombardments in preparation for a major offensive. For ten days from 12th March, the Flesquières salient was drenched with nearly a quarter of a million (mostly mustard) gas shells, There were over 2,000 resultant casualties in the RND. After this preparatory shelling, the Germans attacked in enormous numbers.
By the end of the day, the situation was precarious and the Division was forced to retreat in steps, through Bertincourt, Ytres and the Metz lines, through the old Somme battlefields.
Able Seaman Brine was first reported missing on 24th March, but was only accepted as having been killed in action on that date nine months later. As such, Herbert is commemorated by name on the Arras Memorial; his name also resides on Gerald’s gravestone back home in Binegar.
The Great War took its toll on the Brine family. Three of the four brothers died during those tumultuous years, leaving only John’s oldest son, Wallace, to carry on the family name. John himself died in 1942, aged 84, and lies with his wife and youngest boy in the small Binegar churchyard.