Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

James Shelmerdine

James Shelmerdine : Photograph of James by kind permission of Mrs Vivien Ellis and Wendy Eaton Williamson

Photograph of James by kind permission of Mrs Vivien Ellis and Wendy Eaton Williamson

James Shelmerdine : (L to R) Military Medal; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) Military Medal; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

James was born on the 21st January 1890 in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. He was named after his father and his mother was called Sarah. He was christened on the 6th April. He had an older sister called Frances and an older brother called John William. He also had 3 younger brothers: Elisha, Albert and Henry, or Harry. The family had lost one other child by 1911. We don't know their name.

Like so many people in the Ashton area, James senior worked in a cotton mill. In 1891 he was a minder. Sarah worked as a card room hand in this year. The family lived at 7 Arlington Street in Ashton.

They were still here ten years later in 1901. James was now a bobbin carrier in a mill. Sarah no longer worked. By 1911 they had moved next door, to number 9. James senior was still a bobbin carrier. James junior now had a job. He worked as a piecer, also in a mill.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and James joined the Army on the 2nd May 1915. Albert joined at around the same time. They both lived at 94 Whiteacre Road in Hurst, Ashton. By this time James had changed jobs. He now worked for the Ashton Corporation Electrical Works.

Both brothers joined the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Territorial Force based in Ashton. The original 9th Battalion had been sent overseas in September 1914. The men left in Ashton formed a Reserve to train new recruits. This became known as the 2/9th Battalion, and it was soon decided that it too would become a front line unit. There were still recruits to train, though, so a 3/9th Battalion was formed in March 1915. James and Albert had both joined this unit by July.

On the 12th June 1915, James got married at Ashton Parish Church. His wife was called Mary Elizabeth Dean. They made their home at 16 Ashlynne in Ashton.

Mary had a sister named Ethel. She married George Dickinson in November 1916. His medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection. George and his brother Fred had joined the 3/9th Battalion at around the same time as James and Albert.

The 3/9th Battalion was sent to Southport, Lancashire to train. In early 1916 it moved to Witley in Surrey.

James was sent overseas at around this time, in late March 1916. This suggests he joined the 1/9th Battalion in Egypt. Their role here was to guard the Suez Canal. By the end of 1916 the Turks had been defeated and the British were beginning to advance into the Sinai.

In around March 1917 soldiers serving in Territorial units were given new service numbers. The 9th Battalion was given the range 350001 to 375000, and James' number became 351762. Albert's became 351577. We don't know their old numbers.

At around this time the 1/9th Battalion moved to France to fight on the Western Front. They fought around Amiens during the summer before moving north to the Ypres area of Belgium in August.

It is likely that James fought in the Passchendaele Offensive of autumn 1917. The 1/9th Battalion guarded the North Sea coast at Nieuport from September until December. They then returned to France.

At some point after this James carried out an act of great bravery. An article appeared in the Ashton Reporter newspaper on the 23rd March 1918 stating that Mary had received a letter from James telling her 'that he has been awarded the Military Medal'. His award was published in the London Gazette of the 10th April 1918.

Unfortunately his citation has not survived, so we don't know exactly what he did to earn the medal. He had most likely earned it during February, whilst the 1/9th Battalion was in the trenches around Festubert.

The 1/9th and 2/9th were joined together to form the 9th Battalion in mid February 1918. This happened as part of a reorganisation of the Army that aimed to have more soldiers in fewer battalions, rather than fewer soldiers in more battalions. James was a member of the 1/9th Battalion when he earned his Military Medal, which suggests he won it before this reorganisation.

On the 21st March the Germans launched a major offensive aimed at defeating the Allies before large number of American soldiers could enter the war against them. The 9th Battalion was one of the units that faced this attack.

James was killed in action on the 21st March 1918, the first day of the offensive. He was 28 years old. After the war his grave could not be found so his name is one of the 14,656 listed on the Pozieres Memorial in France. James is on Panel 64 to 67.

Albert also served with the 1/9th or 2/9th Battalion. He survived the war.

Harry joined the Manchester Regiment on the 1st August 1918. His service number was 79279. He did not go overseas until March 1919, after the end of the war. He served with the 53rd and 52nd Battalions in Germany on occupation duties until January 1920.

We believe George Dickinson served with the 1/9th Battalion from 1916 onwards. He survived the Spring Offensive, but the 9th Battalion did not. It was reduced to a small unit, known as a cadre, in April. George eventually joined the 1/8th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. From August onwards they took part in the Allied Hundred Days Offensive. On the 30th August he was killed during fighting around Riencourt near Amiens. He was 26. He is remembered on Panel 9 of the Vis en Artois Memorial.

Mary never remarried. In around 1937 Mary, Ethel, their sister May Whitehead and her family all moved to Leyland in Lancashire. Ethel's daughter Doreen doesn't remember either sister ever talking about the husbands they had lost.

Both sisters lived in Leyland for the rest of their lives. Mary died on the 26th July 1955, and Ethel on the 20th July 1957.

James and George's medals were donated together to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in November 1957.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council