Biddulph & District Genealogy & Historical Society Biddulph Grange

Biddulph and the Great War

'There Shall Be In That Rich Earth A Richer Dust Concealed'

'We Will Remember Them'

Acting Bombardier James Hambleton

26190 16th Battery 41st Brigade Royal Field Artillery died January 20th 1917 Age 34


James Edwin Hambleton was born in 1883.His birth was registered at Wolstanton. He was the son of William and Elizabeth (nee Sutton) and was one of at least eight children. His father was a miner who appears to have been born at Biddulph Moor – indeed his mother and father married at Christ Church, Biddulph Moor on July 19th 1874. The children were brought up in the Tunstall area; in 1881 at Pitts Hill, 1891 at Furlong Lane, Tunstall and by 1901 James and his parents lived at 3, Chapel Street. In this census James was described as a coal carter.

Service records for James state that he enlisted on January 29th 1901. He joined the 3rd Battalion North Staffords and became Private 5632. He gave his address as Chapel Street, Golden Hill and stated that he was employed by Mr. Wood of High Street, Tunstall, as a carter. The record provides details of his height – 5ft 4½in and that he had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. However, his service record also states that he was discharged as permanently unfit on February 10th 1902.

In 1910 James married Jane Smith at Horton and although Jane Hambleton is recorded on the 1911 census with her parents at Troughstones, the Hurst, James cannot be located. If he was still employed as a carter he may have been working out of the area. It is also possible that he had at some point transferred to the Royal Field Artillery 98th Battery, a unit attached to the 5th Division. As this unit served in India and South Africa, James may well have been serving in 1911 and out of the country.

Although his service records from 1914 do not survive there are a number of newspaper articles which allow a picture of his military service to be constructed. On July 31st 1914 James signed up and it is believed he joined his unit in the Royal Field Artillery at Athlone, Ireland. This is where the artillery had their no. 5 Depot. His medal card records that James went to France on September 11th 1914 although newspaper articles report that he left England on August 6th. He must have therefore already been a trained gunner.

James crossed the channel with an early serving division as part of the British Expeditionary Force. He was attached to 16th Battery 41st XLI, a regular Artillery Brigade who were divisional artillery to 2nd Division. For unknown reasons a second battery, the 12th, is also recorded on his medal card. The division’s first actions in August were at the Battle of Mons and the Retreat from Mons.

The artillery did not join until mid-September when they were fighting in the battles on the Aisne and Marne – actions not without causalities. Nevertheless for James and his mates in the 16th battery their baptism of fire was over. Soon after this they were to transfer to the Ypres area of Belgium to support their infantry fighting in the first Battle of Ypres. At the end of October, the 2nd Division comprised of many famous regiments: the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards, Royal Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry, all of whom fought valiantly there.

On January 30th 1915 the Weekly Sentinel reported on a letter received by Councillor Shaw from Gunner James Hambleton, Congleton Road: “He says his battery has been in action, but owing to wintery weather stopping them from getting about, they are not at present doing much fighting. They, however, keep on giving the Germans a few rounds to let them know the English soldiers are not down hearted. They hope in the spring to make things ‘hum’. They are bothered a lot with aeroplanes, but Hambleton thinks their guns have knocked out the ‘Jack Johnsons’. He says the trenches are flooded and the gun pits full of water. He is in the best of health, and with a British soldiers’ optimism, he says they must not grumble as they are well off for food and clothes. Hambleton concluded by saying how pleased he is to see that they keep on getting a few recruits from the old town.”

In 1915 the artillery were in action at Festubert and Loos. As skilled artillery men they were handling 18-pounder field guns and driving the horses and limbers. After completing twelve months in France, James was interviewed by the Chronicle and an article appeared in August 1915: “The loyal and patriotic example of Gunner James Hambleton, 16th Battery, 41st Brigade, RFA, a reservist who has returned home on a month’s furlough after 12 months’ fighting through the thick of the campaign in France and Belgium, if it does not stir the senile pulse of our stay at home laggards, should at any rate show them that even the terrible experiences our brave men have gone through have not prevented them from again risking their lives for King and Country. Gunner Hambleton is a married man with a young family (the youngest was born while he was at the front), and worked at Messrs. Heath’s Brown Lees Colliery at Black Bull previous to being called up last August. His battery was the 98th, but as this was stationed in South Africa at the outbreak of the war, Hambleton joined the 16th Battery at Athlone, Ireland, from where they left for the front on August 6th 1914, with the 3rd Army Corps. Hambleton’s patriotism and devotion to his country lies in the fact that though his time expired as a reservist on September 16th, he signed on again on July 31st for the duration of the war.”

The Weekly Sentinel also interviewed Gunner Hambleton and printed an article on August 21st 1915 and reported that: “signing on again is a fine example for laggards who are ‘waiting to be fetched’.” The article continued: “He looks well, but appears to have lost weight since going out. He has been very lucky, almost exceptionally so considering the number of fierce engagements in which his battery has been engaged, but beyond a touch of rheumatism he has been neither ‘sick nor sorry’ since leaving England on August 6th 1914. It was generally recognised, he told our Biddulph representative, that the 16th Battery was the luckiest in the Division and altogether they had lost only about 50 men, the majority through sickness. Hambleton’s first encounter with the Germans was during the retreat on the Aisne and the Marne. They were merely artillery duels but at Ypres they had to withstand a terrific onslaught by the Prussian Guard estimated at 20,000 strong. These men, he declared, were the first body of soldiers he had ever seen.

Twice they broke through the British lines, but our Guards drove them back and Hambleton’s Battery from an orchard, dealt out death and destruction at a range of 90 yards. It was awful to see the way the Germans were mown down. They came steadily on from a range of 1400 yards down to 90 yards, and the shells were bursting almost on the muzzle of the cannon.”

The next major action was in the Battle of the Somme when they participated in the seven day bombardment prior to the opening on July 1st 1916. Then the Battery gave artillery support to their infantry at Delville Wood and on the Ancre. There were many losses but the mates fought bravely on through until November when the Somme offensive ceased.

The deteriorating conditions over the winter months proved a miserable time for the artillery men who had to live and fight in a frozen terrain. New Year brought more sadness; whilst still in the Somme district and at the age of 34 years, James Edward Hambleton fell on the field. This was on January 20th 1917. Gunner Hambleton now rests in the Ovillers Military Cemetery near Albert. He is also remembered on the Biddulph memorials.

Michael Turnock & Elaine Heathcote.

A list of all the medals awarded to the men of the Biddulph area has been compiled and can be viewed here.


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