Private 7938 James Arthur Attwell

Attwell James 96 428x600Attwell James Arthur 96 403 600
Photograph believed to be James Attwell, courtesy of Joan Thornborough.

Died of Wounds on Friday, 13th November 1914, age 27.
Buried in Grave VI. A. 8. at Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Mesen, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

1st Bn., South Staffordshire Regiment. 22nd Brigade of 7th Division.

Son of the late John and the late Hannah Attwell, of Bell Street, Tipton, Staffs.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Aldershot, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, 4th October 1914.
Medal entitlement: 1914 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Commemorated on the Tipton Library, and St. Matthew's memorials.
Commemorated here because he appears on a Tipton memorial.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/482218/

Genealogical Data

Birth of James Attwell registered June quarter 1887 at Dudley. Son of John and Hannah Attwell from Bell Street, Tipton.

1901 Census
63 Bell Street, Tipton, Staffs.
John Attwell (46, Chain Striker, born Dudley), his wife Hannah (44, born Round Oak), and their 10 children: Phoebe A. (20, born Tipton), Florence (18, born Tipton), John D. (14 - twin, Chain Maker's Labourer , born Tipton), James A. (14 - twin, Foundry Hand, born Tipton), Mary A. (12, born Tipton), William H. (10, born Tipton), Samuel S. (9, born Tipton), Ellen (7, born Tipton), Richard (2, born Tipton), Ethel (2 months, born Tipton). (John Atwell (father) died 1910 and Hannah (mother) died 1905.)

1911 Census
Whittington Barracks, Whittington, Lichfield.
James Attwell, 23, Private in 2nd South Staffs, born Tipton.

Personal Data

James Arthur Attwell is commemorated as J. Attwell on the Tipton Library memorial, and as J. A. Attwell on St Matthew's Memorial.

James landed in Zeebrugge with the initial landing of the 1st South Staffs on 4th October 1914. It is likely that his was still a regular soldier as he had been in 1911, and had therefore been stationed in South Africa at the outbreak of the war.

Action resulting in his death

The 1st Bn. South Staffs returned to England from South Africa on 19th September 1914, and were attached to the 22nd Brigade of 7th Division. In early October 1914 they landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium and were almost immediately in the thick of the 1st Battle of Ypres.

The 1st South Staffords War Diary stops on 26th October 1914 as officer casualties had been so heavy. The remnants of the 1st South Staffords and 2nd Royal Welsh were temporarily merged on 31 October to create a composite battalion under Capt Vallentin.

Vicious fighting continued through the early days of November. Major-General T. Capper of the 7th Division, later wrote that "On November 7th, the 1st Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, although very weak after three weeks' fighting, made a gallant counter-attack in support of the First Corps, which was hard pressed, driving the enemy from his trenches and assisting in the capture of three machine guns. This effort at the end of three weeks' continual fighting - and with hardly any officers left, speaks eloquently for the bearing of this Battalion."

It was in this attack that Captain J. F. Vallentin was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross "for conspicuous bravery”. Previously he had been wounded slightly and was in hospital at Ypres when on 6 November he heard that his Regiment was going into action that night. Determined to be with his comrades Captain Vallentin obtained permission to rejoin them. During the subsequent assault on the German trenches he was twice wounded, but pressed on until he was killed by five or six machine gun shots. The capture of the trenches owed much to the confidence held in his valiant leadership by his men. This was the first V.C. won by the South Staffordshire Regiment in the war, and the first one ever awarded to the 1st Battalion.

The diary of the 2nd Queen's, also of 22nd Brigade, gives some details of the action.
6th November 1914 Ypres
Brigade moved to Dickebusch, into Corps reserve. During the evening a message arrived from Lord Cavan, commanding 4th (Guards) Brigade, in need of assistance. The Brigade marched to Zillebeke, arriving at 2200, and lay in a field around Cavan's HQ.

7th November 1914
About 0500, the Brigade left the field, and went down the path through the woods. Overnight, a gun had been positioned to enfilade the German trench. However, the assistance it gave was slight. The Brigade was deployed, screened from the Germans by a slight rise in the ground. The attack was timed for 0615. There was a heavy mist, and it was only just becoming daylight. The Brigade advanced over the rise. German machine guns opened. The second wave came up, and advanced with the first. It was completely successful, and the enemy ran away. There was much shelling, but the Brigade line held on. The Brigade withdrew that night to the level crossing, where it bivouaced.

The 1st South Staffords were withdrawn just days before the end of the 1st Battle of Ypres. When it had landed in Belgium just a few weeks before it had been a force of 1,100 officers and men, now only 78 remained. Almost every officer had either been killed or wounded, and only one N.C.O., Company Sergeant Major F. Bytheway, was left to bring the men out of action.

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