James spent all his life in the Reddish area of Stockport until, in Ocotber 1915, he travelled into Manchester and enlisted into the army. His parents were James and Jane and he was the youngest of their four children (and only son) listed on the 1901 Census. At the time, the family was living at 50 John Street and later oved to 553 Gorton Road. Much of John’s life centred around St Agnes’ Church where the family regularly worshipped. He’d furthed his education by attending the Church Sunday School and played for its football team. When he left school, he went to work for Sidney Heywood & Co, a local firm of electircla engineers on Brooklands Road.
The Field Ambulance was an integral part of the casualty treatment chain and was not simply a vehicle as we might think today. It provided a number of Dressing Stations and Aid Posts just behind the front, staffed by a doctor and orderlies. Starting a little way to the rear of the these posts were a series of stretcher bearer relay posts, where a casualty would be carried by one group of men for several hundred yards before being passed on to another group.
With the Battle of the Somme just over a month old, James was at one of the bearer post in the south of the battlefield. The Ambulance’s War Diary, held at the National Archives, recounts what happened. “Heavy shelling of Caterpillar Wood and valley leading up to Montauban and Longueval all last night. One dug-out at bearer post 527a2.8 blown in by shell – 41542 Pte. Glockstein C. S, 41504 Pte Askew W., 76938 Pte Dunkerley J, and 78851 Pte James H. E. killed. They were so deeply buried that it was useless to get them out. 51523 Pte Davies E. A. was got out alive from the same dug-out, only slightly wounded and continued. 42076 Pte Parry T. G. also sent to hospital wounded.”
James’ body was never recovered and identified.
Trench maps of the time can be obtained in hard copy or digital format nd it would be possible to identify exactly where the reference “527a2.8” is to within a very few metres.