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James Crabtree was born in about 1879 in Openshaw, Manchester although he lived all his life in Preston the son of Joseph and Amelia Crabtree (nee Briggs). His mother was originally from Manchester and his father came from Tranmere but they were married in Preston in 1862. Both the 1881 and 1891 Census shows the Crabtree family resident at 72 Harcourt Street in Preston where James` father was employed as a boilermaker. In 1891 the family consisted of Joseph and Amelia and six children; William (1871), Sarah Alice (1873), John Fielding | (1875), James (1879)*, Mary (1880) and Grace (1884).

James` mother Amelia died in Preston in 1898 and the following year on the 23rd December 1899 he married Mary Ann Southworth in Emmanuel Church in Preston, the marriage record noting that James was also now a boilermaker like his father.

As an active serving member of the 1st Volunteer Battalion LNL James was called up for service in the South African War and so on the 5th February 1901 he attested for one years` service with the Colours at Preston, service number 7443. The Medical Officer noted that he was 5`8” tall, weighed 128lbs and had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. He embarked for South Africa on the 16th March 1901 and on arrival joined the 1st Battalion LNL. Not long after James had gone overseas Mary Ann gave birth to a son who was born in the June quarter of 1901 and she named him John Joseph. Whilst her husband was overseas Mary Ann and baby John Joseph lived with her parents at 63 Haydock Street in Preston.

James served in South Africa until 15th August 1901 and exactly one month after his return he was discharged having served for 1 year and 223 days. After his discharge James was awarded the Queen`s South Africa Medal together with the Cape Colony Clasp and also the South African 1901 and 1902 Medals.

By 1911 James and Mary Ann were living at 63 Haydock Street and they also had another child, a daughter, Elizabeth (1906). However, the Census record also states that the couple had had eight children originally but sadly six of them had died. James` occupation was recorded as a boilermaker in a shipyard. There was also another man living with the family in 1911, a pensioner named Richard Thornber aged 88 from Clitheroe.

At the age of 35 years and 5 months at the outbreak of war James enlisted on the 3rd August 1914 agreeing to serve for four years with the Territorial Force and was issued with the service number 15. He confirmed his previous service with the Volunteer Battalion and also his service in the South African War. At his medical inspection it was noted that he was now an inch taller standing at 5`9” and had a chest measurement of 38 inches and was said to be in good physical condition. Prior to his enlistment James had been working as a boilermaker in the employ of Taylor`s of Middlesborough. His home address at the time of his enlistment was 42 Bedford Street in Preston and he named his wife Mary Ann of the same address as his legal next of kin.

James embarked for France on the 4th May 1915 with the 1/4th Battalion as a member of “B” Company. The Battalion first went into the trenches towards the end of May and they did incur a few casualties. On the 15th June 1915 the Battalion went into their first major action, known as the `great bayonet charge`, casualties were heavy but James survived. However, noted on his service record under the date 15/5/15 are the words “Admitted F.A. (field ambulance) – nervous procrastination”, James was then sent to a Convalescent Coy and didn`t return to his Battalion until 5th January 1916. There is no indication in his papers to suggest that he returned to England during this period.

On the 7th January 1916 the 1/4th the Battalion moved into billets in Airaines to undergo training which would last for the whole of January. However, just two days later James was in trouble, the entry on his misconduct sheet reads;

“9/1/16 – Awarded Field Punishment No. 1;

  • Drunk and creating a disturbance in his billet
  • Using obscene language to an N.C.O.

On the 1st June 1916 James was sent to the 55th Division Cookery School for a couple of weeks, returning to the Battalion on the 16th June 1916.

A few weeks after his return from Cookery School a second entry appeared on his misconduct sheet;

“21/7/16 – Awarded 10 days Field Punishment No. 1 and forfeit 1 days` pay;

  •  Neglect of duty when Company cook (breakfast)
  • Falling out without permission when in the line of march
  • Absent from 11am to 7pm (8 hours)

On the 25th July 1916 the Battalion was sent south to take part in the Battle of the Somme and by the 30th July they had taken up their appointed place in the line opposite the village Guillemont. Prior to a planned attack on the 8th August whilst the Battalion was in the trenches they had to endure frequent shelling and as a result incurred some casualties.

Extract from the Battalion War Diary 30th – 31st July 1916

30/7/16 – Brigade Church Parade. Sgts. Entwistle and Lancaster presented with Military Medal Ribbons by Brigadier-General G.T.G. Edwards C.B. About 5pm word was received that we were to be ready to move at very short notice. The 1/4th R.Lancs.Regt. and 1/8th Liverpool Regt. left the camp in fighting kit at 7pm.

About 11pm the Battalion left for trenches. One guide met us at junction A.21 B.2.8. The Battalion proceeded to DUBLIN and CASEMENT trenches A.10D and A.11A. The trenches were old German communication trenches and there were no dug-outs. There was nobody to take over from and the Battalion was settled about 5am.

31/7/16 – The enemy shelled these trenches and battery positions round about in the afternoon very heavily. 5`9” shells were chiefly used but there was some of heavier caliber.

2 Officers wounded 2/Lt. O`Neil and 2/Lt Crone – 1 O.R. Killed, 1 O.R. Missing, 15 O.R.`s wounded

Private James Crabtree was one of the fifteen other ranks wounded, having sustained a gun-shot wound to his right thigh. After being admitted to a casualty clearing station he was then transported by hospital barge to Abbeville where he was admitted to 1st South African Hospital. By the 4th August 1916 he had been shipped back to England via the Hospital Ship Panama and was then taken to Liverpool where he was admitted to the Victoria Hospital in Netley.

Sadly, James only lived for another fifteen days before finally succumbing to his wounds in hospital on the 21st August 1916. His body was then returned home to his family in Preston and he was laid to rest in Preston (New Hall Lane) Cemetery.

After the war his family would receive his 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals to which he was entitled and would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

James Crabtree` name is included on the Roll of Honour in the Harris Museum and Library in his hometown of Preston as indicated below by the submission form completed by his family;

Rank: Private
Service No: 15
Date of Death: 21/08/1916
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, B Coy 1/4th Bn.

Janet Davis
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