Rank: Sergeant
Number: 15626
Unit: 51st Company MACHINE GUN CORPS
Date of Death: 12 October 1917
Age: 20
Cemetery: Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium

James and Elizabeth Worthington had James when they were in their mid-40s. He was just three when the 1901 Census was taken and appears to have been their only child. They were then living at Waterside Cottage, Chapel-en-le-Frith, where James was in business as a skin dealer. It is not known when the family moved to Hazel Grove but they were living there in 1914, probably at 5 Pownall Street.

It is very possible that James was a regular soldier. His original unit was the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and he had enlisted into the army at Winchester which was the Regiment's headquarters. His service number, 1330, is also sufficiently low to make this assumption and, indeed, a soldier with a number only two away from James' - 1328 - was killed very early in the War on 30 October 1914, serving with the Regular Army's 1st Battalion, KRRC.

One of the roles of the Machine Gun Corps was to support attacking infantry with its 16 heavy Vickers guns, each operated by a seven man team. The Corps had been formed in the late autumn of 1915 and James was probably transferred to it around this time. The Third Battle of Ypres had started on 31 July 1917 and, in a series of attacks, the British line had been advanced slowly. Conditions had been appalling. It had started to rain on the first afternoon and had barely stopped since then. The ground was a boggy morass, with deep water-filled shell holes, that made a quick dash across No Man's Land all but impossible.

On 10 October, James and his mates moved into positions at "Trafalgar Square" near the village of Langemarck in preparation for an attack on the 12th. Half of the gun teams would go forward just behind the infantry battalions to give them close support. The remaining half had gun emplacements in shell holes and would fire a barrage over the heads of the infantry and into the enemy trench system.

The Company War Diary records "Zero hour was 5.25am. The machine guns kept close up to the leading infantry which proved to be the safest place. The enemy offered little or no resistance on the front of 8th South Staffordshires, except at Aden House. The two guns with 8th South Staffordshires eventually got into position near Turenno Crossing, both with excellent fields of fire. One of the guns got into position with only one man, Private Fleming, carrying gun and two boxes of ammunition."

Fleming must have been a strong and determined man. The gun itself weighed over 28 pounds, the water to cool it another 10 and the tripod another 20. It would normally take two men to carry and a further two to carry the ammunition.

"Two guns went forward on the left flank of 7th Lincolns. One of these teams met with casualties at the start of the attack; only two of the team being left - the man carrying the tripod and the NCO in charge of the team. These two pushed on to the final objective where they found one gun under 2nd Lieutenant Mann (?) with only one gunner left."

All the teams had suffered form a lack of ammunition. The state of the ground had made it impossible to bring it forward from the "jumping off" point. The expected German counterattack was delivered at about 5pm. Within 60 seconds, the barrage guns at the British line had opened fire "putting down a curtain of fire 500 yards from the front line" to successfully break up the attack.

The Diary entry for the day concludes "The attack was a great success and all objectives reached. The conditions could hardly have been worse, the whole of the ground was torn up by shell fire and there was no cover with the exception of isolated pill boxes. Owing to the heavy rain, the ground was a quagmire."

The Company will have thought itself fortunate that casualties were light - only nine men had been wounded and four killed. Unfortunately, James was one of the four. His body was never recovered and identified.

Further information about James can be found in the book "Hazel Grove to Armageddon" by John Eaton.

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