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JAMES, Henry Walter

b. 1887-d.1941

Intro

Private Henry Walter JAMES is one of the confirmed war dead buried within Horton cemetery. He is one of the ‘serviceman’ referred to on the Horton Memorial.

His official war gravestone is located in Epsom Cemetery. His CWGC casualty details state;

  • PVT (Private) in Pioneer Corps, Number: ‘13003015’, Died: 07/02/1941, Son of Henry and Anne James; husband of Lottie James, of Brixton, London.
  • Alternative Commemoration – buried in Horton Estate Cemetery.

His burial record at Horton states his burial as being on 15th February 1941 at an age of 54, which puts his estimated birth year around 1887. Our first major hint is the 1939 register, where at the age of 52 he is living with his wife Lottie and is a general labourer… the story begins.

1880s

With the information we know from the initial records, we can find the birth record of Henry Walter JAMES, registered in Q4 1887. The birth record St Olave Southwark, London, v1d, p246.

Henry Walter JAMES was born on 25th August 1887 to Henry Walter James and Johanna (Anne) Cain. The first born of what would be a large family. Henry’s twin brothers Reginald and Robert both died age 0 in 1889.

1890s

The 1891 census has Henry, aged 3, living with his family at 70 Bramcote Road in Camberwell. Also there are his father, Henry W. (36) is a printer’s compositor, his mother Annie (28) and sister Catherine A. (1).

1900s

Henry first joined the forces in 1905, when he lied that he was 19 (he was in fact 17). He attested on 26 July 1905 to the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Assigned regiment number #36879, and his records indicated that he was 5’5″, had blue eyes, brown hair, and has a scar over his right eyebrow. He listed his next of kin as his Uncle Daniel CAIN. Daniel Cain was in fact his grandfather, being his mother’s father.

Initially he is a Driver at Depot, before being posted as a driver on 8 Nov 1905. Things begin to go downhill after this posting, and on 02 Dec 1905 he went absent without leave for 26 days over Christmas, until 28 December 1905. Upon re-joining he was imprisoned for 14 days before returning to duty on 11 Jan 1906.

He appeared at Greenwich court charged with two counts of embezzlement in August 1905 and the army discharged him on December 1906 with a bold “Services No Longer Required” on his record. He served 1yr 136 days.

Not giving up on the forces, on 14th Jan 1907 Henry enlisted with the Royal Navy at Chatham for a 12 year engagement. His DOB is given as 25th August 1887, and that scar above his right eyebrow helped confirm his identity. He was 5’5″, dark brown hair, blue-grey eyes and fresh. He did not get on very well. He served on the ACHERON (a training ship Ex HMS Northumberland) from 14th-29th January 1907, then after spending 14 days in the cells, again serving 13th-26th February 1907 before another 14 days in cells. He was discharged on 11 March 1907, lasting only 2 months out of a 12 year engagement.

Moving on, in August 1907 Henry was sentenced to serving 2 months in prison for falsely claiming to be a deserter . The record noted that he was charged with a similar offence in both 1-7-1907 at Tower Bridge and 12-2-1907 at Thames Police.

Henry then improperly enlisted to join Northumberland Fusiliers, under the name “Leslie Cyril Jones” in Sept 1907. Having made a confession, he was ‘awarded’ 1 month in prison. He was again imprisoned for 6 weeks for trying to improperly enlist with Kings Liverpool Regt. in March 1908.

In February 1909 he was again imprisoned for 3 months, for again falsely representing himself as a deserter.

I did wonder why someone would constantly represent himself as a deserter. The answer came from a military expert.

People would represent themselves as a deserter if they had a criminal record that disqualified them from signing up, or when they had been ‘kicked out’ of the forces in an effort to re-join. This would benefit both the actual deserter they are pretending to be (as they are no longer being hunted) and the imposter gets into the Army without any trace of his history being known. It happened quite frequently.

1910s

The 1911 census shows Henry’s parents and 7 siblings living at 179 Sangley Road, in Catford. I have been unable to definitively identify our Henry. It is possible he is abroad or in the forces under one of his false or deserter names.

1920s

In Q4 1925, Henry (38) married Lottie Clifford (23) in Birmingham.

Henry Walter departed Liverpool on board the S.S. DORIC on 29th June 1928 and arrived in Canada on 7th July 1928, accompanied by his wife Lottie (28) and daughter Eileen May* (9m) both confirmed as born in Birmingham. He had been to Canada before, staying at Glencoe Ontario, between March-June 1910. They stated that they intended to stay in Canada.

*’Eileen’ was Henry’s youngest sister and ‘May’ was the name of Lottie’s younger sister.

The records show that the family was destined to join Henry’s brother, Charles James who resided at 143 Nelson Street in Branford, Connecticut. He listed his next of kin as his father Henry W. James, residing at Belgrave Road, Birmingham. Charles had travelled to Canada alone in March 1927, as a farm labourer claiming settlement with the Land Settlement branch.

1930s

S.S. Laurentic

Henry and family were deported, making the trip from Montreal to Liverpool on 30 August 1930 aboard the S.S. Laurentic, still with wife Lottie and daughter Eileen. Their proposed address as 5/7 Taylor Road in Birmingham.

In 1933, we can see the family are still in Birmingham but by 1939 they had moved to London, Lambeth.

The 1939 Register shows Henry W James b. 25th Aug 1887, a General Labourer, along with wife Lottie, b. 11th June 1902. The closed record beneath is very likely daughter Eileen whose record is automatically closed for being less than 100 years old.

Still hungry for military service, Henry enlisted aged 53, with the Royal Pioneer Corps, Service Number 13003015, on 4th September 1940. The Pioneer Corps consisted mostly of men between 30-50 whose duty was to perform light engineering tasks. We do not have his military records, but his army life was to be cut short, as 5 months later, Henry died on 7 February 1941.

Private Henry Walter JAMES is buried in unmarked plot 1724a at Horton cemetery, and is recognised with an official Commonwealth War Grave Commission special memorial in Epsom Cemetery.

Why Henry, the only ‘active’ WW2 soldier to be recognised, was buried in Horton Estate cemetery remains a mystery, his records are not available for inspection due to the relatively recent date. The cemetery also contains a single recognised Great War soldier, P. McMahon.

JAMES-Henry-walter-Private-Pioneer-corps
H.W. JAMES – Pioneer Corps


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