Ernest James (1879-1917)
Bombardier 9549 181st Siege Battery
Royal Field Artillery
Formerly Gunner 21056 Royal Horse Artillery
Ernest James was a career soldier and labourer, the tenth child of twelve of William Edwin James, a painter/decorator, and of Eliza Wilson, both of whom were from Leicester.
The first of all the siblings to be born in Birmingham, Ernest enlisted in the 3rd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment when aged seventeen, but bought himself out after a few weeks. Ernest further enlisted in the Royal Artillery on 8th July 1897, adding a year to his age. The record notes that he was 5’ 7⅛” tall, with a 34” chest. Ernest had red hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion, weighed over ten stone and was Church of England. Ernest knew his father’s name, but not his address – his parents separated about this time.
Ernest served for eight years as a gunner, fighting for three years in the Boer War. Gunner James was awarded the King’s South Africa medal, with clasps for service at Paardeburg (‘Horse Mountain’ – the British took 4000 Boer prisoners); Dreifontein; Johannesburg; Diamond Hill; Belfast (Berg-en-dal), and the Relief of Kimberley.
Transferred to the reserve in 1905, Ernest was discharged at the end of his period of service in 1909. In 1912 Ernest married shop assistant Bertha Lily Spencer (1883-1930), the eldest child of seven of an electrical worker, in West Bromwich. Bertha’s and Ernest’s daughter Olive was born in 1913. The family lived at 101, Long Street in Sparkbrook – the house no longer exists.
As a Special Reservist, Ernest was mobilised in 1914, and was eventually attached to the 181st Siege Battery of the Royal Field Artillery, which went to the Western Front in October 1916.
Siege Batteries of the artillery were equipped with heavy howitzers, sending large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory, plunging fire. The usual armaments were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, although some had huge railway- or road-mounted 12 inch howitzers. As British artillery tactics developed, the Siege Batteries were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strongpoints, dumps, store, roads and railways behind enemy lines. (longlongtrail.co.uk)
Promoted to Bombardier (Corporal), Ernest was killed in action on 6th June 1917. (An attack on a British supply train by German aircraft on that day, prior to the Battle of Messines, disrupted the flow of ammunition to the Western Front, forcing British artillery to cease firing after three hours.)
Ernest is buried in Vlanatinghe Military Cemetery in Belgium. The inscription on his gravestone reads: “HE STILL IS OURS IN MEMORY, THOUGHT & LOVE AWAITING THE REUNION.”
Bertha received £9 8s from Ernest’s effects, and a War Gratuity of £3. A pension of 18s 9d per week was awarded to Bertha and her daughter, increased to 25s 7d in December 1917, and 34s 2d in May 1918, as Ernest’s previous service was taken into account.