Tragedy of young Doncaster airman killed just weeks before World War One armistice

It was 100 years ago this week that the armistice was signed that led to the end of World War One.

But the ceasefire came too late for George Leonard Bryars, a clerk from Doncaster who had become one of the last victims of the war less then two months earlier.

A wreath was laid at the memorial to Lt George Leonard Bryars, at Mexborough cemetery, on September 16

A wreath was laid at the memorial to Lt George Leonard Bryars, at Mexborough cemetery, on September 16

On Sunday, services will be held across Doncaster to mark the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918.

Read more: Where in Doncaster will remembrance events be held to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One?

Read more: Tragedy of seven killed in Doncaster’s World War One air disasters

Read more: Memories of one of Doncaster Victoria Cross hero

Read more at: https://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/lifestyle/memories-of-one-of-our-own-victoria-cross-heroes-1-9353056

A wreath was laid at the memorial to Lt George Leonard Bryars, at Mexborough cemetery, on September 16

A wreath was laid at the memorial to Lt George Leonard Bryars, at Mexborough cemetery, on September 16

But Mexborough residents gathered early to remember Lt Bryars – killed while serving in the Royal Flying Corps, and remembered on a family grave in the town’s cemetery.

Second Lieutenant Bryars was known to his family as Leonard.

Local historian Andy Pickering found his memorial in Mexborough by accident a few years ago but could not find much information. After posting a photograph on a specialist website he was contacted by Lt Bryars’ great grandson, Daniel, who had no knowledge of the memorial in Mexborough, but provided clues to help piece together the airman’s story, leading to a ceremony on September 16 in his memory in Mexborough cemetery.  

Lt Bryars was born on August 7 1899, the son of Mexborough cobblers George and Gertrude Bryars. The family business was at Main Street, today the home of Ideal Travel. They later moved to 69 Main Street and later Swinton Road.

A wreath was laid at the memorial to Lt George Leonard Bryars, at Mexborough cemetery, on September 16

A wreath was laid at the memorial to Lt George Leonard Bryars, at Mexborough cemetery, on September 16

He  attended the Mexborough County Secondary School, and aged 16 joined the Board of Trade as a boy-clerk.

He is thought to have volunteered for The Royal Flying Corps in early 1918, giving his address as 28 Victoria Road, and was transferred on April 1 to the newly formed Royal Air Force.

On April 12 he was in a training wing at Bath, and after undergoing courses in  wireless telegraphy, was cleared for action as a day bombing gunner/observer with 11 Squadron RAF, on September 8, 1918 .

Little over a week later he was killed.

His Bristol Fighter C878, piloted by Lt Leslie Arnott, took off at 7am on September 16. Flying over Fontaine, over the German lines, they encountered  Jasta 26 – a very experienced German Squadron. At 8.45am, Leonard’s aircraft was shot down by Leutnant Otto Fruehner, Jasta 26’s top scoring ace. Arnott and Bryars’ Bristol Fighter was Lt Fruehners 25th victory. 

Mr Pickering said: “They were both killed in action and buried together in Brevillers Cemetery. Lt Arnott had no identification and was buried by the Germans as unknown. The two young fliers shared a cross that bore the inscription ‘Here rests the English Flight Lieutenant George Leonard Bryars, fallen on September 16, 1918.’

“Lt Arnott’s body was identified by the Commonweath War Graves Commission almost two years to the day after they were killed from the tailor’s marks inside his uniform when both bodies were exhumed.

“Leonard’s mother never recovered from the shock and died in 1925. She carried with her his photograph in her locket to her dying day.”

Lt Bryars was aged 19 when he died.

His headstone in Brevillers reads: “Our thoughts are ever of thee, a loving son and brother, a brave man’’