Fred Brierley was born in Shaw in 1911.His parents were Henry and Sarah Jane.Fred was the third child,Betsy being born three years previously and elder brother Harry following a year after that.Robert was the youngest of the four.
Tragically both Fred & Harry would die in the Far East during WW2. Fred married Mabel Simpson at St.Paul's in Royton in 1938 and then two years later their son Edwin was born.
Fred had the misfortune to be in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese on February 15th 1942.After eight months of captivity he was amongst 600 men of the Royal Artillery to be marched off to the docks and put onboard a ship to Surabaya on the island of Java. After a harrowing journey they arrived and were put to work digging trenches and unloading barges.This continued for a month or so until the prisoners were told they were to be sent to the Solomon Islands to build an airstrip. Eighty-two on parade were rejected as being not fit enough to work, and told they would soon die there (in fact 18 of them survived their captivity). Two had already died (one on the journey to Surabaya and one murdered soon after arriving) so that left 516 to head to the Solomons.
Fred and the 515 others were taken to the island of Ballale and put to work at the end of December 1942 constructing the airfield which was completed in March 1943. A combination of Japanese brutality,wretched living conditions and being hit by an allied bombing raid in February took a heavy toll of lives.It was reported that they were not even allowed to dig themselves shelter during air raids.
By June 30th there were only 70-100 British prisoners left alive from the 516 that had arrived six months previously.On that day these survivors were lined up and bayoneted or killed with a sword. The bodies were buried in a large pit on the island.
Every one of the 516 men who had arrived on Ballale as prisoners of the Japanese,including Fred Brierley,were now dead.
Following the capture of Ballale by New Zealand troops in late 1943, 436 bodies were exhumed together with artefacts proving these men were the missing artillerymen. None of these could be personally identified and these bodies were eventually re-interred in individual graves at the Bomama War Cemetery in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Despite over two thousand Japanese being on the island, not one of the 108 interviewed after the war would admit to actually coming in contact with the British prisoners.
The case of the Ballale atrocity was under the jurisdiction of the Australian authorities after the war and disgustingly their investigation was dropped.
The roll of honour for those men who died alongside Fred, and those amongst the 82 left behind can be seen here.
The nominal date of death for all the men on Ballale is set by the War Graves Commission as March 5th 1943 but we can't be sure of when exactly Fred died.
photo courtesy of Fred's nephew, John Brierley
Unit:5 Searchlight Regiment
Date of Death:05/03/1943