Photograph of James in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MRP/3C/014
(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasp 'Defence of Ladysmith'; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; 1939-45 Defence Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal
James was born in around 1879 in Aldershot, Hampshire. His father was called George and his mother was Alice. He was one of at least 6 children. He had an older brother called Charles, and younger brothers named George, William Joseph, Albert Edward and Arthur Dudley.
George senior was a soldier in the 96th Regiment of Foot, which later became the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. We believe he died between 1896 and 1898. Alice remarried between January and March 1899 to John Charles Onn, a Corporal in the Royal Engineers. They had at least one child, John Charles junior, on the 7th June 1901.
Like most of his brothers James followed in his father's footsteps. He joined the Manchester Regiment on the 15th May 1893 and was given the service number 3880. He was living in Limerick in Ireland when he joined the Army. He was 14 years old when he enlisted, and would be classed as a Boy until his 18th birthday.
When he enlisted James was 4 feet 8 1/2 inches tall and weighed 70 pounds. He had a 'sallow' complexion, bluish eyes and light brown hair. There was a scar on the back of his neck.
James joined the 1st Battalion in Kinsale, County Cork. They returned to England in November 1894, and were stationed in Preston, Lancashire. Whilst they were here James joined the Band. He played the flute.
The 1st Battalion moved to Aldershot during November 1895. James was a member of E Company during this time, although we believe he still played in the Band. Two years later the battalion sailed to Gibraltar. James began to receive an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay on the 15th May 1895, and this was increased to 2d per day 4 years later.
During 1899 tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising, and in August 1899 the British Government decided to send the 1st Battalion to South Africa in case war broke out. James left Gibraltar and sailed to Durban. He was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October.
The war began badly for the British and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege. James and the 1st Battalion fought hard to stop Boer attempts to take the town, and would attack Boer artillery to stop it from shelling their positions. By the end of the siege food was in short supply and disease was widespread. The British relief force reached Ladysmith on the 28th February 1900.
James left South Africa in early 1900. He had fallen ill with enteric fever and had to be invalided back to the UK. He arrived in hospital in Shorncliffe, Kent on the 23rd April, so had probably left South Africa around a month earlier. He was treated until the 10th May then discharged.
By the 7th July James was well enough to return to duty. He was posted back to Aldershot and joined the 4th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Two days after he arrived he was promoted to Lance Corporal.
The 4th Battalion moved to Portland in Dorset during December 1900, then to Kinsale in July 1901. He fell ill with tonsillitis here, and spent a week in hospital, between the 31st July and the 6th August 1901.
At the end of April 1902 James sprained his knee and required 11 days in hospital. He was promoted to Corporal on the 4th June, 5 days after the Boer War ended.
On the 11th August James was admitted to hospital again. He was suffering from secondary syphilis. This required a long period of treatment, using mercury. He was not discharged until the 8th October, after 90 days in hospital.
During the autumn and winter of 1904 James received several rapid promotions. He became an Unpaid Lance Sergeant on the 1st September, and then began to be paid in the rank on the 19th November. On the 3rd December he was promoted again to Sergeant, and on the same day he was appointed Sergeant Drummer. This put him in command of the battalion's Fife and Drum Band.
On the 5th April 1905 James extended his Army service. He would now be a soldier for a total of 21 years. During August he sprained his back, and needed a week in hospital.
On the 15th November 1906 James was posted to the 2nd Battalion, which was split between the Channel Islands of Alderney and Guernsey. The 4th Battalion had been disbanded by the end of the month.
After just 2 months with the 2nd Battalion, James moved to the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. He was based here until October 1908, when he rejoined the 2nd Battalion.
The 2nd Battalion was now at Portsmouth in Hampshire. It moved to Mullingar in Ireland during the autumn of 1909. This photograph of James was taken during his time with the 2nd Battalion, and shows that he continued as Sergeant Drummer in his new unit.
On the 25th August 1909 James married Lydia Stephanie Reynolds at Portsmouth Registry Office. She moved with him to Mullingar, and then travelled back to Ashton with him in November 1910.
James had been posted to the 3rd Battalion, based at the Regimental Depot. This was a unit of the Special Reserve, which was made up of men who trained as soldiers for a short period every year, and lived as civilians for the rest of the time. James was one of around 90 Regular soldiers who ran the unit and organised training for the Special Reservists. It was not a front line unit; the Special Reservists would be sent to other units to replace casualties in a war.
James and Lydia's daughter Lilian Alice was born on the 2nd May 1912 at the Depot. The next year James was 'permitted to continue in the service beyond 21 years'. He was still serving with the 3rd Battalion when the First World War broke out in August 1914.
On the outbreak of war the Special Reserve was mobilised, and hundreds of soldiers began reporting for duty. The battalion moved to the Humber Estuary later that month, so that these men could be used to defend against a German invasion as well as train. James was promoted to Acting Colour Sergeant and given the job of Company Quartermaster Sergeant on the 9th September.
The battalion moved to Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire during October. They would be based here for the rest of the war, and James would serve with them for almost all of it.
In January 1917 James was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. This was to recognise 18 years service.
On the 9th August 1918 James reverted to the rank of Sergeant on going into hospital. He had contracted gonorrhoea and needed 8 weeks of treatment. He was discharged on the 5th October.
James finally went to war 3 weeks later, on the 26th October. He was assigned to an Infantry Base Depot in France at first, although we don't know what he did there, or whether he was ever assigned to a front-line unit. Infantry Base Depots held men waiting to be assigned to units after recovering from wounds, on training courses or returning from leave.
The war ended on the 11th November 1918. James returned to the UK and the Manchester Regiment Depot on the 23rd March 1919. He was discharged at the 'termination of his period of engagement' on the 20th April.
We don't know much about James' life after he left the Army. By 1928 he and Lydia had moved to Colwyn Bay in North Wales. Despite this, he still attended as many Old Comrade's Association Reunions as he could during the 1930s. The Second World War brought these to a halt between 1939 and 1945.
James earned the 1939-45 Defence Medal during the Second World War. This was awarded to members of a wide range of organisations, including the Home Guard, Fire Service, Air Raid Precautions and the Police. We don't know what James did during this war.
Lydia died on the 5th June 1946, aged 57. The couple lived at 30 Woodland Road in Colwyn Bay at the time, and James worked as a car park attendant. Despite his loss, once Old Comrade's Association Reunions began again after the war James made the journey to see his friends in 1947 and 1948.
In early October 1948 James was in London. He died suddenly there on the 7th October, aged 69. This was a great shock to his comrades, who remembered him as 'a fine old comrade, and a staunch supporter of our various reunions, whether it was Manchester, Ashton, London or anywhere else that offered an opportunity for meeting with the Regiment'. He was buried in Colwyn Bay.
Albert, Arthur, Charles and William also followed their father into the Manchester Regiment. We believe they all enlisted as Boys, like James. Three of the brothers died on active service. Charles died on the 24th January 1901 in South Africa during the Boer War. William died on the 13th June 1916 in Mesopotamia, now called Iraq and Arthur died on the 23rd April 1917 during fighting near Arras in France.
Albert lived through the First World War and went on to have a long career with the Regiment. He died on the 23rd December 1958. John Charles junior died in August 1996.
The medals of all 5 brothers and their father were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment on the 16th April 1960.