Gunner John “JACK” George BROWNLESS 1909 – 1945

1603666 Gunner John George Brownless, 600th Regiment (5th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s {West Riding}), Royal Artillery was killed in action 14 April 1945 aged 36 and is buried at Cassel Communal Cemetery, France.  He is commemorated on Evenwood War Memorial. [1]

Family Details

John “Jack” George Brownless was born 1909 the son of John George and Margaret Brownless of Evenwood and brother to Mattew, Edith, Albert and Richard.

Service Details

 Gunner John George Brownless

The service record of Gunner John George Brownless has not been researched.  The 5th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s {West Riding}) Regiment was a Territorial unit formed in Huddersfield which underwent re-organisation to form a Royal Artillery [RA] regiment.  It was called the 600th RA between November 1944 and February 1945.  After which, it effectively became an infantry unit.  The following Royal Artillery Regiments are listed as Infantry – 600, 601, 606, 607, 608, 609, 611, 612, 613, 614, 616, 617, 619, 623, 625, 630, 631 & 637.

Attacks of the 10 – 15 April 1945:  The Factory, Cassel, Northern France [2]

 1st Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade Group [CSIAB] documents name this important objective as “the Factory”.  It was a strategic position and whoever held the Factory was able to control a large area of ground in the vicinity of Dunkirk. It was a relatively large complex of half destroyed buildings with places to absorb troops for observation, launching artillery and/or machine gun fire, offensive patrols and recce.  The Germans were keen to retake the Factory.

10 & 11 April 1945:  The Factory was covertly encircled, artillery shelled and attacked by Germans.  The defending Free French Infantry [FFI] were virtually all taken POWs. Attacks took place elsewhere, for example farms located south and north of the Factory.  The defending FFI were forced to withdraw.  All Allied positions were heavily shelled, units suffered about 200 casualties. The Germans launched about 600 troops into the attack and lost 100 plus killed and wounded with 27 troops including 4 officers taken POW by the Allies.  But 608 Regiment RA, CSIABG 1 Tank Battalion and 52 (Independent) Tank Squadron defending farms north of the Factory successfully held their positions.  The CSIABG launched an immediate counter-attack to retake the Factory led by a number of their tanks but due to destroyed bridges and soft, flooded terrain the objective was not reached.  Tanks had to halt 200m in front of the Factory and then pull back to starting point.

11 April: The Allies made another attempt to retake the Factory, again unsuccessful.  Although supported by Czechoslovak tanks firing from fixed positions, FFI Regiments were unable to move forward under heavy machine gun fire from the Factory.  They pulled back leaving the flank of advancing Czechoslovak infantry uncovered.

15 April: A major allied attack to retake the Factory took place.  The mission was undertaken using light arms but the 5th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s {West Riding}) Regiment paid a heavy price with 2 officers and 15 other ranks killed, 2 officers wounded and 60 other ranks wounded. One of the fatalities was Gunner John Brownless.  The War Diary states:

“During the night 14/15 April it was discovered that the enemy had improved his defences by breaching all approaches to the factory with A/Tk ditches[3] and by sowing Teller Mines.  The tanks were therefore unable to take part in the attack and were used instead as mobile artillery.”

The Teller mine was a German made anti-tank mine. With explosive sealed inside a sheet metal casing and fitted with a pressure actuated fuse, Teller mines had a built in carrying handle on the side. The mines were plate-shaped. [4]   Gunner Jack Brownless was killed in action when he was caught by a Teller mine.

A letter from Gunner G. Heatley dated 16 June to George’s mother Mrs. Brownless confirms this.  It states: [5]

“On April 14th (Army might say 15th) between 5 & 6 o’ clock at night, Saturday Jack & a chap with 2 stripes (who has never been found) were killed with a mine at a place called “Loome Plaze”, France.  He got a decent burial along with all other blokes who were unfortunately to be killed & was buried at a place called Cassel, France near Dunkirk.”

Burial: Cassel Communal Cemetery Extension

 Gunner Jack Brownless is buried at grave reference E.14 Cassel Communal Cemetery Extension.  There are 95 burials from the 1939 – 45 War and 20 unidentified.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] & The War Diaries for the 600 (5th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s {West Riding}) Regiment, Royal Artillery are WO171/9172 covers the period February to December 1945 & WO171/9172 covers the period from January to June 1946 &

[3] Anti-tank ditches

[4]  Teller being German for plate.

[5] Family documents provided by the late Violet Robson [nee Brownless]