This post was written by Lynda Fisher for the Tameside remembers veterans heritage project.
I recently heard from a family member that a relative on my mother’s side died in France in WW1. My mother never spoke about the past, so I decided to see what I could discover.
All I had was a name – ‘James Hall’, who was my mother’s uncle. My first port of call was the Ashton Memorial Gardens, where I discovered there were two James Halls so I made a note of both army numbers.
By taking advantage of ‘Introduction to Tameside Local Studies and Manchester Regiment Archives’ session, I was able to discover more.
By looking at the ‘Commonwealth War Graves Commission’ site, I was able to find L/Cpl James Hall, the son of John Thomas Hall of 27 Bradgate Street in Ashton. This was in the West End area of Ashton, where my mother and her siblings grew up. Another document I came across was ‘army form W.5080’, which listed details of the deceased soldier. This document named an older brother, William (my grandfather), who at the time, lived at the address where I was born, so I knew I had the right James Hall.
Knowing that I had the right person, I began to see what information I could find. This is still ongoing, but this is the information I have found so far:-
Before the outbreak of war, James was a Collier, working at New Moss Colliery in Audenshaw as a winch winder. He was already a member of the Territorial Force based in Ashton Under Lyne. One of the documents I have found, states that he was ‘stationed at the outbreak of hostilities’. Many Territorials had been on Annual Camp and had to be sent back to their home bases. This could have been the case with James.
When war was declared, the Territorial Force was mobilised for full-time war service. This was known as being ‘embodied’. James was embodied on 4th August 1914. After a few days at home, the battalion moved for training to Chesham Fold Camp in Bury, where they formed part of the East Lancashire (Territorial) Division. It was while they were here, that orders were received to split the men into two groups: those who were willing to serve overseas and those who were not. The enlisted men were not obliged to serve overseas but could agree to do so. These men signed the ‘Imperial Service Obligation’ and became a ‘First Line Unit (1/9)’. James signed up for overseas service and was very soon on his way to Egypt.
The battalion left Bury for Southampton on the 9th September 1914 and arrived in Alexandria on the 25th September. After leaving Alexandria, the battalion went to Kasr-el-Nil Barracks for intense training and acclimatisation, where they stayed until they received orders to sail to Gallipoli. They stayed there until they were ordered to withdraw in January 1916. The battalion then returned to Alexandria.
It was while they were back in Egypt, that James attended Machine Gun School in Cairo and qualified as a 1st class Machine Gunner. He transferred on 29th September 1916 to the ‘126 Machine Gun Company’.
On 26th February 1917 the battalion embarked for Marseille and the Western Front. James was was given a field promotion to L/Cpl on the 19th April 1917.
Sadly, he was killed in action in the field on 11th May 1917, after being hit by a fragment of an anti aircraft shell. In a letter to his parents quoted by the Ashton Reporter on the 7th July 1917, Major Kirkpatrick said “L/Cpl Hall was killed at approximately 3.30pm by a piece of shell hitting him in the neck. He died within a few minutes and was unconscious. He was a hard worker and one of my best men and will be a sad loss to us all”.
James was just 23 when he died and is buried in Templeux-Le-Guerard British Cemetery in France.
Ashton Pals website https://ashtonpals.webs.com/
Commonwealth War Graves Commission https://www.cwgc.org/
Robert Bonner, ‘Volunteer Infantry of Ashton-Under-Lyne 1859-1971’, 2005 (qL355)