Signed: April 1914 from Everton
Departed: Enlisted for WWI in 1916
- Fought in WWI
The stories of George Elmore and Manchester born James Brannick are sadly intertwined, as the younger Brannick was signed ultimately to replace the veteran Elmore in Saints starting XI, yet both met the same fate on the battlefields of Europe during WWI.
Hugh Law was Saints manager in April 1914 and as political tensions on the continent simmered towards boiling point, he returned from Merseyside with the signatures of forwards James Brannick and Tom Page from Everton, with the clubs bank account £125 worse off. Twenty-two-year-old Brannick had scored twice in three appearances for the Toffees and was a prolific scorer in the central reserve league of England having notched an impressive thirty nine goals during the 1913/14 season, and it was hoped the inside right would provide the team with more firepower.
A few months after signing for the club though, World War I began, but resisting the temptation to return home and join up for the cause, Brannick remained in Paisley for the 1914/15 season and along with Page and another new signing, centre forward John Clark from Morton, formed a very useful forward line which improved Saints fortunes dramatically from the previous season where relegation had been spared only due to a league vote on re-election.
Clark had a particularly good start to his Saints career, and managed four goals in his first three matches, but Brannick didn’t take long to get going either and in his second appearance for the club scored Saints final goal during a 4-2 victory at Boghead on the 22nd August 1914. The following month the inside forward scored his first goal at Love Street in a 2-0 win over Partick Thistle, and as the team continued to pick up points Brannick was playing a supporting role for Clark who was having a brilliant start to his Saints career.
From December 1914 however, Brannick really found his form and scored eight times in the next fifteen matches helping Saints climb the table into the top half where they remained until the end of the season to finish a much more respectable ninth in the twenty-club top division. Between them, Clark, Page and Brannick had scored an impressive forty one league goals, with Brannick hitting eleven in all competitions, a very good start for what was essentially his first full season as a professional in the first team, and also achieved far from his Manchester home where his young wife and child probably remained.
In regular circumstances, Hugh Law would be looking forward to his new frontline improving even further the following season, but these were far from normal times with the lure of joining up to fight in the war too much for even footballers and Brannick returned to Manchester in the summer of 1915 where he enlisted for the Lancashire Fusiliers based at Cheetham in his home city.
Brannick was assigned to the 11th Battalion where he served next to fantasy author JRR Tolkien, who famously wrote Lord of the Rings some of which was based on the camaraderie formed in this battalion and his frightening experience of the battlefield. In September 1915, Private Brannick and his Division landed at the fishing port of Boulogne –Sur-Mer on the north coast of France as part of the 74th Brigade of the 25th Division, and his part in the conflict began.
The Saints man survived the Battle of the Somme, unlike the unfortunate George Elmore, and by the summer of 1917 his Battalion was now in Flanders at the frontline of the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium, which began on the 31st July during torrential rain turning the fields of Belgium into a lethal slew of mud containing unexploded bombs, deep craters, fallen trees, dead bodies and barbed wire.
The conditions must have been incredibly bad, as both sides postponed attacks from the 5th until 10th of August, when the British along with James and his entire division planned to capture Westhoek, a strategically important location on the Gheluvelt Plateau in West Flanders.
Sadly, James was one of a hundred plus men classified as ‘missing presumed dead’ from his Division in the treacherous fields of Ypres during this single advance on the morning of the tenth of August, presumably consumed by the treacherous Ypres mud and still to this day undiscovered despite the numerous archaeological digs still taking place. A further one hundred and fifty-eight men were proclaimed officially dead, and over a thousand injured from his Division alone on just one day of conflict at this particular battle.
At the age of only twenty five James Brannick lost his life fighting in a war hundreds of miles from home, still registered as a player with St Mirren, yet sadly the vast majority of Saints supporters today are unaware of him or George Elmore and the other Saints men who died during one the most brutal conflicts in human history, perhaps it is time to change that.
James Brannick’s details are included in the ‘Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing’, in Ypres, Belgium a few miles from where he was presumed to have fallen, pictured below.
The only know picture of James Brannick, from the Scotsman newspaper on 30/04/1914