Private Bailey was the only son of John William and Florence B Bailey. He lived with them and his sister, Annie and brother, Willy, at 18 Bank Street, Cheadle until he joined the army. He was regular soldier.
War was declared at 11pm on 4 August. The Army started to mobilise immediately, recalling men on leave, together with the reservists. By 8 August, mobilisation of the 1st East Lancashires was complete and they were ready to undertake specific training, at their base in Colchester, before leaving for France. James had just over two weeks of his short life left.
Over the next nine days, the Battalion undertook field training and route marching - designed to bring the men up to a high level of fitness. Other units had already started to go overseas. Between 18th and 20th August, the Battalion had moved to Harrow, where it camped on one of the public school’s playing fields. On the 21st, it left for Southampton where, the next day, it sailed on the ship “Braemar Castle”, arriving at Le Havre in the afternoon. On the 23rd, they moved by train to Le Cateau, which was the Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force, and then marched for 4 hours to Briastre.
The same day, British troops had engaged the Germans for the first time at the Battle of Mons and had been forced to retreat. The retreat continued over the next two days, with the BEF constantly having to fight rear-guard actions. On the 25th, James’ Battalion was ordered to Solesmes, to take up a position to cover the retreat, but did not have to go into combat. In the evening, the Battalion marched to Beauvois. The Commander in Chief of the BEF had ordered a stand to be made the next day at what was to become known as the Battle of Le Cateau.
The Battalion’s official War Diary describes James’ last day. At 4am, the Battalion was ordered into position “after considerable hesitation. “C” and “D” Companies (Coys) took up a position on La Carriere hill just south of Beauvois with the Rifle Brigade on our right and Hampshire Regiment on our left. The remainder of the Battalion moved south. At 6am, C & D Coys came under rifle and machine gun fire at a range of about 800 yards. One gun in particular from a position in a cornfield caused us considerable loss. A & B Coys were moved back in support of the other two Coys. In spite of our fire, the enemy advanced and at about 10am, C and D Coys retired a short distance and took up a position on the railway line and along a sunken road. About this time the enemy started to shell our position but without doing any damage. From this position, we held up the enemy’s attack until about 12 noon when German reinforcements came up and they pushed forward. They also managed to establish a machine gun somewhere which enfiladed the sunken road and we had a good number of casualties, chiefly by wounds in the leg.”
By now, the Battalion had suffered 250 casualties killed, wounded or missing and they were ordered to retire to the village of Ligny and take up a position on the hill overlooking the village. The War Diary continues “The Battalion formed up with the rest of the Brigade and then retired across the one and a half miles of open country which separated us from the village. During this retirement, we were subjected to very heavy rifle, machine gun and shell fire and lost considerably. Almost everyone was either bruised or hit through the clothing. The Battalion reformed as far as possible in the village and took up a position covering the east end of the village. While this was being done, the village was attacked, but the attack was repulsed. “
By 6.30 in the evening, a further retirement was ordered which the remnants of the Battalion achieved with minimal further casualties. In the day’s fighting, James was one of 24 men from his Battalion who were killed. A total of 772 British soldiers died that day. One of these was Fred Lee, also remembered on the Cheadle War Memorial. They were the first men from the Cheadle & Gatley area to lose their lives.
(NB: Original research by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website)