Friends Of Bramley War Memorial Uncover History

Local News


What started out several years ago as research by Bramley History Society into fallen service men and women from the area, along with a strong desire by locals for a proper memorial in honour of them, has evolved into an incredible community group who have achieved so much, uncovered incredible stories and even received an award from Royalty!



The Friends of a War Memorial for Bramley achieved their target in 2014 of having a war memorial in place by the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI. This was a huge undertaking with lots of hard work involved by many in the local community, originally inspired by research which revealed so many men and women from Bramley, Rodley and Stanningley who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and security of our nation. The memorial was unveiled in Bramley Park, with 741 service men and women listed.


Listed on the memorial is Fred McNess. Born in Bramley in 1892, he served during WWI with the Scots Guards, seeing action in the first battle of the Somme. On 15th September 1916 near Ginchy, France, Lance-Sergeant Fred aged just 24 led his men over the trenches in the face of heavy shell and machine gun fire. Finding the left flank exposed, and the enemy bombing down the trench, McNess led a counter-attack. He survived terrible injuries, and during his 18-month convalescence was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V. His commendation reads ‘For conspicuous bravery…organised a counter attack and led it in person…continued encouraging his men and throwing bombs until utterly exhausted by loss of blood.’ Fred was given an official reception in Leeds where he was greeted by crowds who turned out to see him, as well as a band led parade. Sadly, the extent of his wounds which included facial disfiguration, along with PTSD left him in lifelong pain. This led him to take his own life at 64yrs old. Fred McNess is the only WWI soldier from west Leeds to be awarded a VC.


Following the memorial project, momentum continued with different groups of volunteers all working to improve Bramley. One such group decided to clean up and restore the graveyard at Bramley Baptist Church. With over 8 acres of land, the upkeep was very difficult and areas furthest from the church fell into disrepair. There are around 80 official war graves and ‘remembered’ graves for family members who died in service abroad or have no known grave. As the group worked hard to tame mother nature they uncovered graves belonging to people with incredible stories.

Included is the only woman listed on the Bramley War Memorial, and also the first member of the Leeds Pals to die in service. Of particular interest though is Major John Geoffrey Appleyard.


Major Geoff Appleyard was born in Bramley, 1916 and served during WWII in the Commandos and SAS. Following service in the army as Second Lieutenant, he volunteered to join the Commandos in 1940, and by May 1941 was awarded the Military Cross for ‘gallant and distinguished services in the field.’ Following further missions with the SSRF (Small Scale Raiding Force) he was awarded a bar to his Military Cross. In 1942, the now Temporary Major Appleyard was awarded the Distinguished Service Order following several dangerous operations. Having seen the man three times in 11 months, the amused and impressed King greeted Appleyard with ‘What, you again?’

Geoffrey Appleyard was appointed the first Second in Command of the Second SAS Regiment following the disbanding of the SSRF in 1943. During the night of the Allied invasion of Sicily, in July 1943, Appleyard supervised the dropping of SAS paratroopers. On the return flight over the Mediterranean, the Albemarle aircraft disappeared, and Geoff was declared missing presumed dead. His body was never recovered.

It is reputed that Major Geoffrey Appleyard was the inspiration for James Bond, due to his wartime service with author Ian Fleming, who will have witnessed his exploits, seeing first hand his bravery and determination.

Geoffrey’s memorial plot was uncovered by the group in August 2014 and it is now their mission to restore the memorial back to its former glory. To generate funds, the group have republished 700 hardback copies of the book ‘Geoffrey – Being the Story of ‘Apple’ of the Commandos and Special Air Service Regiment’ which was written by his father as an illustrated memoir 70 years ago. (see below for our reader competition to win a book, and how to purchase.)


Thanks to all the hard work of the local community, including the generosity and support of local businesses, the Friends of Bramley War Memorial group has recently been awarded the Duke of York Community Initiative Award. The award is to recognise the contribution that the volunteer groups have made to Bramley, ensuring that the past citizens of west Leeds who sacrificed so much are remembered and respected today. HRH Prince Andrew presented the award in a ceremony at Sheffield Cathedral. The group were absolutely thrilled.

Councillor Caroline Gruen, Chair of the Friends of Bramley War Memorial said “I was delighted when the Bramley War Memorial won the John Thorp category in the Leeds Architecture Awards and I am even more delighted and proud that it has now won the prestigious Duke of York Award. I am extremely proud of the work the Friends of Bramley War Memorial group has done to establish this very special memorial as a tribute to those from Bramley who fell so tragically in service. I must also pay tribute to the remarkable work of the graveyard restoration team, who have transformed a previously neglected site to a cared for environment and have discovered local history and stories which can now be treasured for generations to come. All these volunteers deserve our recognition and thanks for the hours and days of work they have put in.”


You can order a copy of the illustrated 200 page ‘Geoffrey’ book at a cost of £11.99 with free UK p&p from; with all proceeds going to restore and maintain the memorial of this man who gave so much for our freedom today.

The Yorkshire Reporter has a copy of the book to giveaway.

To enter go to the competition page

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