Jean Brillant (1890–1918) was born in Assametquaghan, Quebec, on March 15, 1890. He worked as a telegraph operator for the railway. Brillant served in the Canadian Militia before volunteering for service in 1915 with the 189th Regiment (Temiscouata and Rimouski). Upon arriving in England, he was transferred to the 69th French Canadian Battalion and then to the 22nd French Canadian Battalion, for duty in France. On the night of May 27–28, 1918, Brillant received the Military Cross while leading a successful attack on an outpost in the sector of Boiry-Becquerelle. He was awarded the Victoria Cross on September 27, 1918, for his actions near Méharicourt on August 8–9, the second day of the Battle of Amiens, when he rushed a German machine gun that was holding up his company’s advance. Though wounded, he remained in command of his company, later leading two platoons in a successful attack that saw the capture of 15 machine guns and 150 German soldiers. Brillant received a second wound in this attack, but managed to advance another 200 metres before collapsing. He died the next day, on August 10, 1918, and is buried at Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, in France.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: March 15, 1890 (Assametquaghan, Bonaventure County, Quebec)
Date of Attestation: September 20, 1916 (Valcartier, Quebec)
Age at Enlistment: 26 years old
Prior Military Service: Thirteen years with the 89th Regiment of the Militia
Height: 5 feet, 10 inches
Weight: 165 pounds
Description: Roman Catholic
Home Address: Bic County, Rimouski, Quebec
Trade: Telegraph Operator
Next of Kin: Father, Joseph Brillant of Rimouski, Quebec. Mother, Mrs. Rose de Lima Raiche Brillant, also of Rimouski, Quebec (she received the Cross of Sacrifice). Executor, J.A. Brillant of Amqui, Quebec.
Theatre of War: France
Casualties / Medical History
- May 28, 1918 – Brillant is “wounded and remains at duty.”
- August 10, 1918 – He dies of wounds suffered the previous day.
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- Service documents indicate Brillant’s first name as “John.”
- His unit sails on September 23, 1916.
- He is awarded the Victoria Cross on September 27, 1918.
- A copy of an article details Brillant’s actions in battle, and includes a photograph of his brother, Colonel Jules Brillant, paying tribute at the monument in Jean Brillant Park, Montreal, 1971.
The London Gazette
Military Cross, The London Gazette – September 13, 1918, Supplement 30901, Page 11039
John Brillant, Infy. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in volunteering for and leading a raiding party against enemy positions some 500 yards in front of a line. Seeing some of the enemy running away, he pursued them, and, although wounded himself, personally accounted for several, and driving one into our barrage, thereby obtained valuable information. By previous reconnaissances under difficult and highly dangerous conditions, he largely contributed to the success of the raid.”
Victoria Cross, The London Gazette – September 24, 1918, Supplement 30922, Page 11429
“Lt. John Brillant, M.C., late Quebec R. – For most conspicuous bravery and outstanding devotion to duty when in charge of a company which he led in attack during two days with absolute fearlessness and extraordinary ability and initiative, the extent of the advance being twelve miles.
On the first day of operations shortly after the attack had begun, his company left flank was held up by an enemy machine-gun. Lt. Brillant rushed and captured the machine-gun, personally killing two of the enemy crew. Whilst doing this, he was wounded, but refused to leave his command.
Later on the same day, his company was held up by heavy machine-gun fire. He reconnoitred the ground personally, organised a party of two platoons and rushed straight for the machine-gun nest. Here 150 enemy and fifteen machine-guns were captured, Lt. Brillant personally killing five of the enemy, and being wounded a second time. He had this wound dressed immediately, and again refused to leave his Company.
Subsequently this gallant officer detected a field gun firing on his men over open sights. He immediately organised and led a “rushing” party towards the gun. After progressing about 600 yards, he was again seriously wounded. In spite of this third wound, he continued to advance for some 200 yards more, when he fell unconscious from exhaustion and loss of blood. Lt. Brillant’s wonderful example throughout the day inspired his men with an enthusiasm and dash which largely contributed towards the success of the operations.”
Military Medals, Honours and Awards (1812–1969)
At age 11, Jean Brillant is living with his family in St. Octave-de-Métis, Quebec. His father, Joseph Brillant (38) is bilingual, and a shoemaker earning 500 dollars annually. His mother is Rose de Lima R. Brillant (32). His parents are French Canadian, and their religion is Roman Catholic. They have five children: Horace (14), Jules (12), twins Jean and Edmond (11), and Arthur (seven).
The Brillant family now lives in Bic, Rimouski, Quebec. Horace’s name does not appear in the census records for 1911 but the other four boys still live at home with their parents. Joseph carries a $1,000 dollar life insurance policy.