Private 40800 James Downing

Killed in Action on Friday, 17th August 1917, age 21.
Commemorated on Panel 144 to 145 of Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

9th Bn., Royal Dublin Fusiliers. 48th Brigade of 16th Division.

Son of James and Phoebe Downing, of 53, Regent St., Woodsetten, Dudley.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Tipton, Resident: Unknown.

First landed France & Flanders, post 31st December 1915.
Medal entitlement: British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Not commemorated on any Tipton memorial.
Commemorated here because identified as Tipton on 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1630344/

Genealogical Data

1901 Census
17 Wood Street, Tipton, Staffs.
James Downing (37, Canal Boatman, born Tipton), his wife Phoebe (35, born Quarry Bank), and their 7 children: Harriet (14, born Tipton), Joseph (12, born Tipton), Solomon (10, born Tipton), Sarah (8, born Tipton), James (6, born Tipton), Betsy (2, born Tipton), and John Albert (1 month, born Tipton).

1911 Census
74 Furnace Parade, Tipton, Staffs.
James Downing (47, Canal Boatman, born Tipton), his wife Phoebe (46, born Tipton), and their 7 surviving children of 14: Joseph (22, Canal Boatman, born Tipton), Solomon (20, Canal Boatman, born Tipton), James (16, born Tipton), Betsy (12, School, born Tipton), Alice (9, born Tipton), Florence May (7, born Tipton), and Annie (9 months, born Tipton).

Personal Data

After James's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £1/19/10d (1 pound, 19 shillings and 10 pence); this was paid to his father, James, in November 1918. His War Gratuity was £3/0/0d (3 pounds exactly), this was also paid to his father, James, in December 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that James had enlisted within the previous 12 months.

Action resulting in his death

On the evening of 15th August, the 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF) left the relative safety of Vlamertinghe and marched to their assembly line just to the east of Frezenberg, about 3 miles north-east of Ypres. Their role in the Battle of Langemarck was to advance about 1 mile towards the German 3rd line in front of Zonnebeke. Zero Hour was at 04.45am on 16th August, and they were to lead the attack with the 7th Royal Irish Rifles (RIR).

The 9/RDF, in common with other units in the 16th (Irish) Divison, had been holding the line and also providing carrying parties from late July, this had exhausted many men. From 1–15 August, the Division had already lost about a third of their front-line strength in casualties. During the night of the 15th/16th, the Germans maintained a bombardment which increased in severity from 3.00am; the 9/RDF and 7/RIR lost about 65% of their men before they even began their attack.

At 5.40am, a message was sent back that they were held up 100 yards from a strong-point (assumed to be Bremen Redoubt), and that most of the assaulting troops were killed or wounded. It was 7.30am before this was received at HQ. As soon as they attacked, the 9/RDF and 7/RIR were badly cut up by machine gun fire from German machine gun positions at the Potsdam, Vampir and Borry Farms, only isolated parties of British troops managed to reach their objectives.

The afternoon was no better. Our own artillery was falling short and at 3.30pm small groups of Germans attempted to infiltrate the RDF positions from Vampir Farm which was still. As the light faded that evening, those men capable fell back to the start position and search parties attempted to recover the wounded.

The War Diary reports that just 40 Other Ranks arrived back at the morning's assembly line, and a number of these became casualties from a direct hit on a dug-out before morning. The War Diary also reports that "the night and next day were comparatively quiet with the exception of intermittent shelling and sniping." On the night of 17th August, the remnants of the 9/RDF moved back to their camp at Vlamertinghe.

The 9/RDF had 10 Officers and 56 Other Ranks killed on the 16th August, and 1 Officer and 28 Other Ranks on the 17th August. Private James Downing was killed on the 17th, and has no known grave and is therefore commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial - like the majority of men killed on those 2 days.

Downing James Trench Map
9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers start position. Note Potsdam, Vampir and Borry Farms, also Bremen Redoubt.

Newspaper Cuttings