Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Orange Free State'
James was born between October and December 1882 in Ashton-under Lyne, Lancashire. His father was called Alfred and his mother was Sarah. He had an older sister called Mary Ann and an older brother called John Alfred. He also had 2 younger sisters called Sarah A. and Minnie. The family had lost 4 other children by 1911. The family were Protestants, but not Anglicans, Presbyterians or Wesleyans.
In 1881 Alfred worked as a goods porter for a railway company and the family lived at 15 Smallshaw Lane in Ashton. Ten years later they had moved to Broadbent's Yard, off Camp Street. Alfred was now a labourer.
At some point over the next ten years James began to work as a collier. He also joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Volunteer Force based in Ashton. As a Volunteer James kept his civilian home and job, and trained as a soldier during evenings and weekends. He would also go on an annual training camp lasting around 2 weeks.
The Boer War broke out in South Africa in October 1899. It had begun because of tensions between British and Boer settlers in the country. The British Army suffered some serious defeats during the early months of the war and began to send reinforcements to the country.
The Volunteer Force was not organised or trained to fight abroad, but units were asked to form Volunteer Service Companies (VSC) that could be sent to South Africa and attached to Regular Army battalions.
Two VSCs had already been formed by the Manchester Regiment and had served in South Africa by the time James volunteered on the 27th February 1901. He was accepted into the 3rd VSC and given the service number 8354. When he enlisted James was 5 feet 2 1/8 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, light grey eyes and light brown hair. He was 'slightly flatfooted' but passed as fit.
The members of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion who were joining the 3rd VSC were given a 'right handsome' dinner a few days before they left. It was held at the George and Dragon Hotel and featured speeches by a number of senior dignitaries from the Manchester Regiment Depot, the 3rd Volunteer Battalion and local companies. These were followed by toasts to the men and their comrades, and a number of songs and recitations that 'convulsed [the] listeners with laughter'.
The 3rd VSC sailed for South Africa on the 15th March. It joined the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, which had been in the country for almost a year. By this time the main role of the 2nd Battalion was to man blockhouses and take part in long patrols of the countryside. This was aimed at restricting the movements of Boer fighters and forcing them to face the British. The strategy was successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.
James and the rest of the 3rd VSC returned to the UK on the 25th June. He was demobilised on the 1st July and returned home to Ashton. James was not able to attend the welcome home dinner held for the Ashton based members of the 3rd VSC on the 9th July at the Pitt and Nelson Hotel.
During this period Alfred had been living at 21 Suffolk Street with Sarah, John, Sarah junior and Minnie. We don't know whether James had also lived here before and after his time in South Africa. Alfred still worked for a railway company, he was now a shunter. John was a goods porter.
The rest of James' life is a mystery, although we believe he died in Ashton between April and June 1918, aged 35. James was also awarded the 'South Africa 1901' and 'South Africa 1902' clasps to his Queen's South Africa Medal.