James Henry ASHBY
Rank: Private
Number: 242296
Unit: 7th Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment
Date of Death: 12 October 1917
Age: 40
Cemetery: Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium

James was a skilled man - a bricklayer by trade - who originated from Manchester. In the closing months of 1896, he married Caroline Higgs at St Andrew's Church, Ancoats. They set up home nearby at 12 Herbert Street, Ardwick and are known to have at least one child - a son who they named after his father.

By the time of the War, the family had moved to Reddish, probably living at 80 Windmill Lane, where Caroline was in the early 1920s. James was too old to have joined up early in War but with casualties mounting, he was later conscripted and assigned to the Herefordshire Regiment (service number 5461). However, this was for training only and before going overseas on active service, he was transferred to the West Kents. His above service number, issued after the beginning of 1917, indicates he was originally assigned to the 5th Battalion, no doubt whilst still in the UK, and will have been reassigned to the 7th on arrival in France.

The Third Battle of Ypres had been underway since 31 July 1917 and, by mid-October, it was drawing to a close as the British Army clawed its way through the mud up the Passchendaele Ridge. On the night of 10/11th, the West Kents moved into the front line in preparation for another major attack on the 12th. Eight British Divisions - nearly 140,000 men - would advance, with the West Kents attacking towards the village of Poelcapelle.

During the early hours of the next night, James and his mates lined up for the attack. The front line extended from Poelcapelle Church with a second line some 70 yards to the rear. The British artillery barrage opened at 5.25am but some of its shells fell short just to the rear of "B" Company and amongst "A" Company in the second line, causing some casualties. Even before the men could move forward, the Germans started to shell No Man's Land but it was not heavy and, as the men moved forward, there were only a few more casualties. However, the German machine-gunners and riflemen had much more success in killing and wounding the advancing Tommies.

"B" Company reached their objective and found the Germans had already pulled back. Advancing further, they came under very heavy fire from the Brewery and, also, from the right flank. All the company officers became casualties. Sergeant Tebbitt took command but they couldn't get forward, even when the men of "D" Company came up to support them. There as only one officer, Lt. Duffield, left and he ordered the remnants of both companies to dig in.

On the left of the attack, "C" Company had captured an enemy post and taken two prisoners but due to heavy casualties, they couldn't make any real progress and had to dig in near Poelcapelle. All its officers had become casualties. The men of "A" Company had also lost their correct route in the chaos and became merged with "C", digging in with them.

By 11.30am, Lt Duffield, now the only officer in the Battalion still at duty, decided it was impossible to advance further and gave the orders to consolidate the positions gained. They held these until relieved on the night of 13/14th. Over half the Battalion had become casualties -  330 men dead, wounded or missing. James' body was never recovered and identified.

   
           
   
     
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