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55th-divJames Lancaster was born in Walton le Dale on 9th December 1889 to 19 year old Alice Lancaster. Alice had married Joseph Orrell on 10th August 1899 at St Saviour’s church, Bamber-Bridge but when James was born three months later he was registered with her maiden name, Lancaster.

When the census was taken in 1891 James was two years old and is found at his maternal-grandparents house, Richard and Isabella Lancaster at 21 School lane, Walton le Dale.

By 1901 he was living with his mother and Joseph at 25 Mill Street and during the preceding 10 years Alice and Joseph had four other children (all of whom were given the Orrell surname); John William (b. c1894), Isabella (b. c1897), Elizabeth Ellen (b. c1899) and Margaret Amy (b. c1900).

When the 1911 census was taken James was married and living with his wife, Jane (nee Hampson), and their one month old baby, Harold. They were living in his father-in-laws house at 10 James Street, Preston.

James and Jane had married at the Parish Church in the parish of St Mary’s, Preston on 8th August 1910 and were both employed in the cotton industry.  On their marriage certificate James gave Joseph Orrell’s name as his father and stated his previous residence was 88 Stone Row, Bamber Bridge.

When war broke out in August 1914 James was probably already serving in the Territorial Army and would be mobilised for training straight away. As a Corporal he sailed to France on 4th May 1915 with the main body of the 1/4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during a raid on enemy positions at Blairville Wood in the Arras sector on 28th June 1916. His officer had been killed and James took charge, being acting Sergeant-major at the time.

The raid on Blarville was carried out by nominated companies of the 164th Brigade (55th Division) including the 1/4th Loyal North Lancs, 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers and 1/9th Kings Liverpool Regt.

The 1/4th LNL war diary for the action reads;

June 28:-  Raiding Party of 3 officers and 56 O.Rs (B) Party.

Ref Map FICHEUX 1/10,000.

In accordance with prearranged scheme this part left our trenches at the point where GAMBLER STREET enters the fire trench. They left promptly at 5.35 p.m. and advanced in two rushes to within 15 yards of the enemy fire trench about R34b5670. Here they came under heavy fire from machine-guns, rifles and rifle grenades and were held up at 5.50 p.m. Communication was established by telephone with our fire trench and it was reported that they could get no further and were suffering heavy casualties. Major J. A. Crump who was conducting the operations of this party gave orders for them to retire. This they did in very good order suffering few casualties on the return journey.

1. The enemy wire was well cut and presented no obstacle.
2. The ‘accessory’ apparently did not reach BLAIREVILLE WOOD.
3. Some of the enemy were seen to be wearing box respirators, others were not wearing them.
4. The enemy could be seen in force in the fire trench and in the communication trenches. In some cases they were standing on the parapet. Some of these were shot down.
5. There was a machine-gun in the head of each sap immediately to the flanks of the gap in the wire, thus they came under cross-fire. Another machine-gun was located in the parados (the rear-side of the trench) about R34b5670.

The diary of Thomas Ainscough (published here) records “..we sent gas at the Germans in BLAIRVILLE WOOD but the wind changed thus missing those in the wood and when the attack was delivered the Germans opened a deadly fire on our men. Quite a lot of our chaps were killed and wounded..”

The 1/9th Kings Liverpool Regiment war diary recorded;

WAILLY TRENCHES 27th 8 a.m.- 8.25 a.m. – Our artillery opened fire on the enemy’s trenches with good effect. The enemy’s retaliation was very weak being chiefly 77 mm shells. Practically no damage was done to our trenches. During the afternoon about 12 5.9s were fired on the BRETONCOURT-WAILLY RD. During the night our Artillery bombarded the villages of BLAIRVILLE & FICHEUX. At about 10.10 p.m. the enemy put about 8 77 mm shells on our front line. Weather fine.

28th An ALERT PERIOD ordered at 12.45 p.m. ZERO hour 5 p.m. At 5.00 p.m. ‘Accessories’ were let off from our front line trenches until 5.25 p.m. Our Artillery also opened fire on the enemy’s trenches at 5 p.m.
At 5.35 p.m. A raiding party of the 1/4th LOYAL NORTH LANCS left our trenches and advanced to R 34 B 56.70. Here they were held up by Machine gun, rifle & rifle Grenade fire and were forced finally to retire. At 5.35 p.m. another raiding party of the 2/5 LANCASHIRE FUS. left our trenches & entered German trenches at R 34 B 98.85. Before entering, machine gun fire was brought to bear on them from a sap on the left and also from the Support Line on their right. They bombed a considerable number of dugouts and a party penetrated about 40 yards up a Communication trench. This party was attacked by the enemy coming across the open. They killed a number of the enemy who came out of dugouts and quite a number were seen dead, evidently killed by our Gas. The trenches had suffered considerably from our bombardment.

A party of men from our Battalion went over from the trenches occupied by the 5th Kings and entered the enemy Saps, R 29 B. 7.2 They were much troubled by smoke on the way over. They found the Saps head enclosed with barbed wire for about 30 yards. They therefore worked down the right side of the Saps & obtained an entrance where the wire terminated. At the point of entry the entrance to a dugout was found, which had a stout door about 3 steps down. A bomb failed to damage this. The party then advanced down the Sap. Near the base a German was waiting for them with his rifle, but the officer in charge, 2/Lt R. DARLING of the party shot him with his revolver. He was immediately pulled through a door and the door was slammed to & bolted. It was found impossible to force this. The enemy commenced bombing from three points, but our bombers soon silenced them. A party then got out on top to get round this obstacle when the signal for withdrawal was received. The enemy retaliated about 1 p.m. with a few 77 mm shells which fell near our Support lines, during the remainder of the day the enemy was fairly quiet.

The History of the 1/4th Battalion gives a little more detail about LNL’s part ;

On the 28th June 1916 the raiding party of 3 officers and 56 other ranks left our lines at the junction of Gambler Street and the Fire Trench at 1735, the raid was preceded by the discharge of gas and artillery fire.

The party was working in conjunction with raiding parties from all battalions in the division. They advanced in two rushes to within a few yards of the enemy trenches, where they came under fire and were held up. At 1750 they established communication with our lines and reported that they could get no further and were suffering heavy casualties. A Sgt returning, reported that the enemy were in force and further progress was impossible. Major Crump ordered them to retire which they did in good order in spite of losses which included the whole of the leaders. The wind seemed to be uncertain and blew back the smoke curtain diagonally across the front so as to disclose our party, which was on the right flank of the division to the enemy.

The enemy wire had been well cut and presented no obstacle but the enemy were seen in force on the trenches to the north of Blairville Wood, some of them wearing respirators. The gas however did not reach the wood, but near our lines a number of enemy dead were observed, who had obviously been killed by our gas.

Corporal Thompson did admirable work in maintaining telephonic communication between the advance portions and the Headquarters of the Brigade raiding parties in our own front line. Private Clarke and Corporal Thompson remained in a shell hole not far from the enemy wire until after nightfall and saw them come out of their trenches and carry some of our men who were either dead or wounded across the bridge into their trenches.

All the parties came under machine gun and rifle fire, but they inflicted a large number of casualties before returning. There were no trench-boards in the enemy line where our men entered them and the trenches had obviously suffered from our artillery fire.

Sergeant Entwistle, who brought back reports on the progress of the raid, returned to assist in carrying out the retirement, whilst Private Ward and another collected five wounded in a shell hole and brought them in one at a time under heavy machine gun and shell fire.

The casualties suffered in the LNL raiding party were ten killed, including Capt E M Gregson and 2/Lieut A Martin with 18 wounded including 2/Lieut A S Walker.

smallmmOn 30th July 1916 Church Parade was held at which Brigadier General GTC Edwards presented Sjts Entwistle and Lancaster with Military Medal Ribbons won by them in the raid at Blairville.

Of the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers raiding party twenty year old Private James Hutchinson was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation reads;

smallvcFor most conspicuous bravery. During an attack on the enemy’s position this soldier was the leading man, and, entering their trench, shot two sentries and cleared two of the traverses. After our object had been gained and retirement ordered, Private Hutchinson, on his own initiative, undertook the dangerous task of covering the retirement, and he did this with such gallantry and determination that the wounded were removed into safety. During all this time this gallant soldier was exposed to fierce fire from machine-guns and rifles at close quarters

Late in the afternoon of 30th July 1916, soon after he had been presented the ribbon for the Military Medal, Sjt James Lancaster and the rest of the Battalion received orders to move at very short notice and that night left for the trenches at GUILLEMONT. Once there they occupied some old German communication trenches (Dublin and Casement trenches) which contained no dug-outs. Within hours of their arrival the enemy opened up on their trenches and battery positions with 5.9’s and heavier shell and Second Lieutenants Orrell and Crone were wounded, as were 15 other ranks including Sergeant James Lancaster who had suffered shrapnel wounds.

James Lancaster was returned to the UK and was discharged as a result of his wounds on 5th October 1916. He was given the Silver War Badge number 69573.

The Lancashire Daily Post on 16th November 1916 reported the presentation of his Military Medal by Colonel H. Cooper C.M.G. at Fulwood Barracks. Importantly it details the events surrounding him being awarded it;

james lancaster

Ex-Sergt. Lancaster, now discharged, is a Prestonian, his home being at 10, James Street off London-road. His military medal was awarded for gallant conduct in a raid on June 28th last. After his officer had been killed he took charge, being acting Sergt-major at the time, and led the men against the Germans with great ability and coolness. A few days later he was wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel and was discharged early in October.

Later James would receive the 1914/15 star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal.

Unfortunately his service and pension papers do not appear to have survived.

Paul McCormick
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