South Oxford Community Centre

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66 men - Ernest Brooks

[Brooks Ernest 7 Whitehouse Road in WWI uniform Clive Organ]

Ernest Brooks in the garden at 7 Whitehouse Road

Photo courtesy of Clive Organ

Ernest William BROOKS

Ernest Brooks was born in Oxford in December 1887, the son of George William Brooks (born in Oxford in 1859/60) and his wife  Emma (born in Horspath in 1856/57). The couple married in 1885/86 and Ernest was their first child; they subsequently had a daughter, Mary Dorothy (known as Dorothy) who was born on Christmas Eve 1889. George was a college servant at Corpus Christi from at least 1897 until his retirement in 1923.

When the children were small the family lived at 16 Cambridge Terrace in St Ebbe's but by 1901 they had moved to 7 Whitehouse Road in Grandpont. A woman named Elizabeth Brooks, probably George's sister, lived next door at 5 Whitehouse Road and ran a lodging house there.

Ernest's sister Dorothy was a pupil, and then a pupil teacher [a young trainee teacher], at the Girls Central School on New Inn Hall Street. In 1910, when she was 25,  she became an assistant teacher at the school, in maths, botany and nature studies. Ernest also went into teaching and by 1911 he too was an assistant teacher, in his case at the Boys Central School in Gloucester Green. Here are some photographs of them as teachers before the First World War. Ernest helped to organise the Oxford Central School's junior football team. He himself was a keen rower and prominent member and secretary of the Neptune Rowing Club, which he represented for several years in Oxford City bumping races and regattas.

In October 1912 Ernest matriculated as a student with the Delegacy for Non-Collegiate Students at the University of Oxford. This has been established in 1868 to allow students to be members of the University without being a member of a college, thus avoiding the (for many) prohibitive costs of an Oxford college. It later became the St Catherine's Society and then St Catherine's College. Whilst a member of the Delegacy for Non-Collegiate Students Ernest studied for a BA degree in Classics and attended Culham College, the training college for school teachers near Abingdon. During this time he was also still working as an assistant teacher. He successfully passed his first-year exams (or Schools as they were known) in 1913.

Ernest joined the army in September 1914 and was given his commission on 22 December as a Private with the 4th Battalion of the Oxf & Bucks Light Infantry, service no. 3126. He was later promoted and became a Captain with the 6th Battalion of the Oxf & Bucks Light Infantry; in the same month he passed his final examinations. He received his degree on 19 October 1916, when he was home wounded.

Here is a photograph of Ernest in the trenches. He was killed in action on 20 September 1917 near Langemarck in West Flanders, Belgium, whilst taking part in the first day of the Menin Road Battle. This was one of the actions making up the Third Battle of Ypres, popularly known as Passchendaele. As reported in the address later given at his memorial service, Ernest was leading his company to the attack when he was wounded in the shoulder. During a temporary lull he rallied his men, but was again wounded, this time fatally. He was 30.

A senior officer wrote that Ernest's men were devoted to him; another said that he had died a true soldier's death and that even though wounded he was 'quite calm, cheerful and in no pain'. Six days later his family received this telegram informing them of his death. Two weeks later it was reported in the Oxford Journal Illustrated and in October 1917 in the magazine of Oxford University Non-Collegiate Students.

Fairly soon after the 1918 peace Dorothy travelled to the battlefields in Belgium where her brother had been in action and visited the approximate place where he fell. She annotated this map to show the spot where Ernest had died and took these moving photographs. He is buried at the Cement House Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium (the grave registration document notes 'believed to be buried in this cemetery'). At the request of his father his headstone is inscribed 'Requiescat in pace' ('Rest in peace'). Ernest is also commemorated on the Culham College Roll of Honour and on the St Catherine's Society First World War memorial which is in St Cross Church, Holywell, Oxford (now Balliol College's Historic Collections Centre).

Ernest and Dorothy's father died in June 1941 and their mother died six months later. Dorothy had transferred to the South Oxford School on Thames Street in 1925, and continued to teach there until her retirement. She remained living in the family home at 7 Whitehouse Road until her death in March 1977, in her late eighties.

With thanks to Clive Organ (grandson of a close friend of the Brooks family) and Barbara Costa (Assistant Librarian at St Catherine's College) for images and additional information, and to Julian Reid and Harriet Fisher (Archivists at Corpus Christi College) for additional information.

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(Above) Ernest Brooks (standing right) as a teacher at the Oxford Boys Central School on Gloucester Green; and (below left) Dorothy Brooks (standing far left) with fellow teachers, and (below right) with her class of pupils, at the Oxford Girls Central School on New Inn Hall Street before the First World War.
Photographs by kind permission of Clive Organ. (Click on any image to close)

[Ernest Brooks, Central Boys School] [Dorothy Brooks, Central Girls School, with teachers] [Dorothy Brooks, Central Girls School, with pupils]

Ernest Brooks (right) in a trench.
Photograph by kind permission of Clive Organ. (Click image to close)

[Ernest Brooks, trench]

The telegram informing Ernest Brooks' family of his death.
Reproduced by kind permission of Clive Organ. (Click image to close)

[Ernest Brook, telegram]

Photographs taken by Dorothy Brooks when she went to visit Ernest's grave at the Cement House battlefield, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, shortly after the war ended.
Reproduced by kind permission of Clive Organ. (Click on either image to close)

[Cement House battlefield] [Ernest Brooks cross, Cement House Battlefield]

Ernest Brooks (far right) with the Oxford Central [Boys] School junior football team, 1913-14.
Reproduced by kind permission of Clive Organ. (Click on image to close)

Ernest Brooks with OCS junior football team, 1913-14

A military map dated 1917, giving the layout of the trenches near Langemarck in Flanders which Ernest Brooks and his regiment were working in at the time of his death. The place of his death has been marked by his sister Dorothy.
Reproduced by kind permission of Clive Organ. (Click on image to close)

Ernest Brooks map of trenches

The obituary of Ernest Brooks which appeared in the October 1917 edition of the Non-Collegiate Students Magazine.
Reproduced by kind permission of St Catherine's College. (Click on image to close)

Brooks obit in NCSM