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Pte James Doohan was one of the L.N.L. soldiers who were killed in action in the trench raid of 10th January 1917 at Wieltje north east of Ypres. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial to the missing on panel 41- 43.

James Doohan was born in 1893 in Bolton to parents Thomas a carter from County Mayo in Ireland and Ellen (nee Thomasson b. Bolton) they had married in 1876 and lived at 25 Raby Street, though they died whilst he was young.

By the time of the 1901 census return James was shown as seven years old, although in reality at the time of this census he was in fact eight and was living at 42 Eckersley Road, Astley Bridge Bolton. The head of the household was shown as his older brother Mathew who was 24 and working in the cotton mills as a spinner as were the older brothers Thomas 20, John 18, Michael 16, Eliza 13, Joseph 10 and Gertrude 3. His maternal grandmother Ann Thomasson aged 76 also of Irish stock and his older brothers helped to bring the younger children up, he also had an older sister Mary Ellen born in 1878.

By 1911 the family had moved to 24 Sutcliffe Street, just around the corner from the old address. Michael 26 was now listed as the head and living with him were: Joseph 21, James 18 and Gertrude aged 14 years.

By the outbreak of WWI the 21years 11 month old and 5’5 ½’’ tall James was a side piecer at Messrs John Ashworth’s Ltd Mill, and was in lodgings at 8 Howard Street when he enlisted on 6th November 1914 at Bolton into 1/5th Bn L.N.L. Regiment. He listed his next of kin on the existing parts of his service file as his sweetheart Miss Annie Halliwell of 130 Blackburn Road, Egerton Bolton. She was the beneficiary for remaining finances that included his war gratuity which appeared in the Register of Soldiers Effects entry No: 405393.

He also states that his parents are deceased and that his full blood relatives were his brothers Mathew, Michael, Joseph of Sutcliffe St, John of Bertha Street his sisters’ Alice of Mayfield Street, with Cissie and Gertrude who live in Bury.

He embarked at Southampton for France on 27th June 1915 and after a month on the continent he was attached to an entrenching battalion on 20th July. The entrenching battalions were holding companies for troops until they joined their regiments and were utilized for the upkeep and repair of defences and also used as reserve soldiers.

Six months later on the 22nd January 1916 he was posted to and joined ‘A’ company of the battalion in the field.

On the 1st July 1916 at the opening of the battle of the Somme the battalion had not been engaged, they were in the trenches at Bellacourt and had mainly been employed on working parties. They were however to take part in the action at Guillemont 8th – 9th August 1916 when they had 131 killed, wounded and missing. They had also suffered many casualties throughout September from enemy fire whilst being used for salvage work and as burial parties on the edges of Delville Wood after the major battle that had just occurred at that place.

He was admitted to the Field Ambulance at Abbeville on 1st October where he remained until the end of that month although no cause or treatment is recorded.
On 31st October he joined the Divisional depot at Etaples and a week later joined his battalion in the field on 6th November.

With the change to the new army numbering system in 1917 his army number became 241274.

He was one of 140 men who on the 9th January 1917 marched to spare land near to Ypres prison and practiced their actions that would be put into effect the next day, watched by the Divisional Commander who afterwards expressed his approval of their display, the area today is close by the site of the CWGC Ypres Reservoir Cemetery.

On the 10th January 1917 the men, had divided into two groups left and right parties, both had Bangalore torpedoes with them to cut any obstructing enemy wire. The left party under the command of Lt Robert Keith Makant MC would assemble at 15.00hrs at Lone Farm and the right party under 2 Lt John Cecil Frankland at Prowse Farm. They moved onto to their jump off point a ditch running S.E from Argyle Farm and at 17.15hrs they left their trenches and approached the enemy defences. The right party was immediately met by a heavy machine gun fire and artillery, a single shell accounted for both Bangalore parties of this group as they moved together and all became casualties.

2nd Lt Frankland had been killed and the reserve officer 2nd Lt Charles Warburton Whitaker who had been wounded too gave the order to retire as the wire they encountered had not been cut and they no longer had the means to destroy it. The left party gained their objective and was successful in their attempts in the enemy trenches though the raid had been costly.

Of the officers 1 had been killed and 2 wounded and of the other ranks 7 had been killed and 49 wounded with 4 missing believed dead, of the wounded some would later die of their wounds.

His name is on the Roll of Honour at Holy Infants Church, Astley Bridge, Bolton his medal entitlement for his war services was the 1914-15 star trio of awards.

Panel 41-43 on the Menin Gate memorial

For the Weiltje Trench Raid main index please CLICK HERE.

Garry Farmer
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