Laurence Edward Briard

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Laurence Edward Briard


The following article appeared in The Rangoon Gazette, on 3 April 1916

A gallant feat by RIM officers

Although their work does not come before the public eye in the same manner as that of the Royal Navy, the officers of the Royal Indian Marine have never been behind their brother officers of the older service when duty requiring both daring and skill had to be performed. Unfortunately, from the very remoteness from Britain of the waters usually sailed by the Royal Indian Marine, many deeds which, if performed nearer home, would secure prompt recognition, pass practically unnoticed farther east.

By the courtesy of an eye-witness, we are now able to give some account of one such deed performed as long ago as last Christmas Day. The account should be of special interest to Burma as both officers concerned were at that time serving in the station ship at Rangoon.

Requisitioned river craft

Since the great need of river transport in the operation of Force D of the Indian Expeditionary Force along the Tigris and Euphrates was first realised, the Government has drawn heavily upon Burma for the river craft so necessary for a successful continuance of these operations. Both Government vessels and those of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company have been requisitioned for this service.

On 16 December last, a small flotilla of these vessels sailed from Rangoon... No difficulties were experienced until the vessels had passed Port Blair, the weather being entirely favourable and the sea smooth. On 22 December, however, these favourable conditions came to an end.

The Captain of the Ailsa, alarmed for the safety of his boat, had cast off the stern-wheeler Popa. A boat`s crew from the Mayo, under the command of Lieutenant Engledue, succeeded in connecting the Popa with the Ailsa, but owing to some misunderstanding, just as the tow rope was being made fast, the latter vessel`s engines were reversed and the rope became hopelessly entangled around her twin screws. The Popa was once more cut adrift and became separated from the towing vessel. It was found that the Ailsa was completely unmanageable owing to the entangled condition of her screws.

Volunteers were asked for among the Lascars to dive down and endeavour to free the propeller. Dismayed by the heavy seas and more so by the large number of sharks which were plainly visible in close proximity to the vessels, none of the crew would venture in. It seemed that both the Ailsa and the Popa would have to be abandoned.

Two volunteers

At this moment, Lieutenant L E Briard and Sub-Lieutenant A H Hicks of the Mayo volunteered to dive in and endeavour to release the Ailsa`s propellers from the tangle of rope. Commander Hand of the Mayo was at first reluctant in view of the great danger from the sharks, to allow the experiment, but being pressed by both officers and having in mind the great loss to the state at this critical time, which would be incurred if the Ailsa had to be abandoned, finally consented.

In order to keep off the sharks, which could be plainly seen circling round, the vessel`s Lascars, with long poles, were told to beat the water in the neighbourhood of the divers and certain of the European officers were similarly told to fire at any sharks which ventured too close to the officers at work in the water.

Both Lieutenant Briard and Sub-Lieutenant Hicks are strong swimmers. Armed with a small saw (on account of the resistance of the water, an axe is of little use below the surface) Lieutenant Briard dived off the stern of the Ailsa and commenced to attack the maze of rope round the propeller. He was able to remain under water for about ninety seconds, but owing to the time spent in pulling himself down to the level of the propeller, was only actually able to work at the rope for about one minute of this time.

As soon as Lieutenant Briard emerged from the water, his place was taken by Sub-Lieutenant Hicks. Working thus in reliefs, the clearing away of the ropes was kept up practically continuously until darkness put an end to the attempt for the time being. At dawn on Christmas Day the two officers continued their efforts under the same unfavourable conditions. At about 9 am their courage and endurance was rewarded and the rope round the propeller had been sufficiently loosened to allow of its being drawn clear.

Sharks visible

While they were in the water, sharks appeared so close to both officers as to be clearly visible. They were, however, frightened off by the swimmers' rapid movement to the far side of the propeller and by the beating of the water by those on deck. Captain Smithson of the Shweli also shot two sharks from the deck. While the actual diving operations were in progress, a shark over nine feet long was caught from the Mayo by means of a hook baited with a piece of red flannel and was hauled on board.

Neither of the officers appeared in any way the worse for their perilous adventure.

Such is a brief account of a very gallant action which not only saved the Government many thousands of pounds but prevented the abandonment of a vessel which has already been of great value in assisting our progress in Mesopotamia.

Both Lieutenant Briard and Sub-Lieutenant Hicks must have been fully aware of the danger they ran from the roughness of the sea and from the sharks. The proverbial reticence of sailors concerning their own doings has prevented the truth of this exploit becoming known earlier. Indeed, it is only by the merest accident that it is now published. It is much to be hoped that the recital of this very gallant action will not be made too late to allow of some recognition being given to the two officers concerned.

Biographical note

The "recital of this very gallant action", to quote the above, did indeed come too late to allow for any recognition. Lieutenant Briard received the usual Great War military awards, being the Victory Medal and the British War Medal, but nothing further.

Laurence Briard was born at Waldegrave, Beaumont, on 3 February 1890, the second of three sons of Ernest Briard, a militia captain, and Maud Irene de Gruchy, his wife. He attended Victoria College from 1899, before going to sea and then entering the Royal Indian Marine Service.

A sound training for his future at sea, and for the above action, lay in a boyhood swimming and sailing in St Aubin's Bay. He and his elder brother Victor were founding members of the St Aubin`s Swimming Club. Living half way up Bulwark Hill, overlooking the bay and St Aubin's Fort, with steps leading down to the beach at Le Vauvarin, he spent much of his youth either by, or on, the sea. The Swimming Club`s concrete steps and route over the rocks to the former diving board, near the shale outcrop known locally as Le Housse, or the Housse Rock, still survive.

Briard, who had caused in 1908 some considerable offence at a tea party, was initially sent immediately by his mother into the Merchant Navy, being apprenticed in July that year. However, a transfer was obtained for him into the Royal Indian Marine. He became a Sub-Lieutenant, with effect from 19 January 1912. By 1915, he was a Lieutenant. During the Great War, at a date subsequent to the above action, he was seconded to the Royal Navy.

He returned after 1919 to the Royal Indian Marine, receiving promotion, with effect from 19 January 1924, to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, the rank in which he served during the Second World War, in the Royal Navy Reserve at H.M.S. Euphrates, for which he was awarded the 1939-45 Star and the 1939-45 War Medal. He retired from the Royal Indian Marine on Indian Independence in 1947.

He married in 1920, Leila Minnie Pipon, the daughter of Captain A T M Pipon, of Hartley Whitney, Hampshire, whose grandfather had been a Jerseyman. He inherited Waldegrave, at Beaumont, which he let for some years and then sold. He and his wife then settled on the Hamble, near Southampton, living in Norada, a house-boat, which had previously been a racing yacht.

His two brothers were killed in action, Victor in 1914, at the start of the retreat from Mons, and Jack in 1919, at Peshawar, in what was then still India, but is now Pakistan. Laurence was very popular with his fellow officers and liked by all, with one exception, that being, most regrettably, his own mother, with whom he never saw eye to eye. He died in 1955, without issue.

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Descendants of Jean Briard

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