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04 November 2009

Private James Newman Brealey of Cherry Gardens

Photo: AWM P07791.001

James Newman Brealey was a son of John William and Elizabeth Lillian Brealey. Newman (as he was known) was born in Southern Cross, WA. The family lived in Cherry Gardens when Newman was primary school age as he attended the Cherry Gardens Public School. The family must have moved back to WA soon after and then moved around a fair bit, as Newman also attended the Yalgoo State School (500 km north of Perth) and the family lived in various gold mining towns along the road west from Perth towards Kalgoorlie. It appears that Newman's father and brother were gold miners at one time. Newman himself worked as a labourer or 'lumper'.

He enlisted at Black Boy Hill, WA on 13 March 1916 at the age of 19, as a reinforcement for the 16th Battalion. He joined the battalion in France in December 1916 after a couple of months of training in England. The freezing winter meant little action until April, when the battalion's first commitment after the spring thaw was the attack on the German Hindenburg defensive line near Bullecourt, France on 11 April 1917.

On the eve of his first battle, probably at the urging of his officer or sergeant, Newman wrote a brief will and testament in his pay book, leaving his possessions to his mother in case of his death. On the following day, the 16th Battalion attacked without adequate artillery support but with the support of tanks, many of which broke down. Despite this, the battalion captured its objectives, but ran out of ammunition and bombs and were eventually forced to withdraw back to their original trenches. Of the 17 officers and 700 soldiers of the 16th Battalion that attacked that day, only 3 officers and 87 soldiers returned to their start line. One of the soldiers left on the battlefield was Newman Brealey. As his body was never found, his name is inscribed on the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France, along with thousands of other Australians who have no known grave.

On 2 November 1918, nine days before the War ended, a photograph of Newman Brealey was unveiled in the schoolhouse of the Cherry Gardens Public School alongside others from Cherry Gardens that had been killed. His name is inscribed on the Cherry Gardens War Memorial. His brother, Lance Corporal Robert Harold Brealey served with the 51st Battalion and survived the War, returning to Australia in July 1919.

By 1923, the family had moved again, and were living in Manjimup, WA (360 kms south of Perth).

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