William John (Bill) JAMES MID

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JAMES, William John

Service Number: 1364
Enlisted: 28 November 1914, Oaklands, South Australia
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: 50th Infantry Battalion
Born: Broken Hill, New South Wales, 17 March 1892
Home Town: Broken Hill, Broken Hill Municipality, New South Wales
Schooling: Alma Public School, South Broken Hill, NSW
Occupation: Labourer
Died: Killed in Action, Noreuil, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France, 2 April 1917, aged 25 years
Cemetery: Noreuil Australian Cemetery
(Sp. Mem. B. 12.) Noreuil Australian Cemetery, France
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Broken Hill War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

28 Nov 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Oaklands, South Australia
2 Feb 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 1364, 10th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
2 Feb 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 1364, 10th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Clan McGillivray, Melbourne
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 1364, 10th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
26 Feb 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 1364, 50th Infantry Battalion
14 Apr 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Corporal, SN 1364, 50th Infantry Battalion
21 May 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 1364, 50th Infantry Battalion
12 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 1364, 50th Infantry Battalion, Pozières
2 Apr 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 1364, 50th Infantry Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages
Date unknown: Involvement 10th Infantry Battalion, Pozières

Death of Sergeant James

Extract from Dr Roger Freeman's book "Hurcombe's Hungry Half Hundred"

The enemy fire was terrific, and all we could do was lie on the flat of our stomachs and await the 52nd. A quarter of an hour went by, and half and hour. Surely, some ghastly mistake had not occurred in the staff work? Perhaps the 52nd had copped it in the neck from the same strongpoint? I searched my mind for a reason. There was no other enemy forces between us other than those ghastly machine-guns in that strongpoint on the hill. At this point I called for a volunteer to climb the high bank and see if he could locate the rest of the battalion. Without wishing to be vainglorious, let me state that I would have done this myself, but although my wounded leg could take my weight such a task was beyond its capability. A willing man climbed at once and called, "Not a soul in sight," and almost before he finished the sentence hurtled down the bank, not wounded, fortunately, but the machine-gun fire had fretted the bank beneath his feet and he had lost his footing. At that moment the Lewis gun section under my old friend Sergeant James arrived; he was never far away from where I was. On this occasion, I fear, he was disappointed, because he said, "Fire at these blanks," and before he could be stopped he hopped into the open and suited the action to the word. Poor, brave fellow; it was suicide. He fired one burst only. The nest moment he rolled over saying, "Look after me," and died.

Lieutenant Maxwell Gore, pp 101 'Hurcombe's Hungry Half Hundred

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MID Recommendation - 19 August 1916

Bravery and devotion to duty near MOUQUET FARM between 12th. and 15th. August.

MID Recommendation - 3 March 1917

This NC.O. whilst at an isolated post [illegible] near Mouquet Farm from August 13th. to 15th. had charge of a Lewis Guns. Owing to the heavy casualties the teams were considerably reduced & the guns were worked by men of very little experience. This necessitated Sgt. James being ready at any moment to fix up stoppages.
During a counter attack numerous stoppages occurred & Sgt. James worked very hard at them under heavy fire.
His work greatly assisted in beating off the enemy.

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Biography

Son of Robert and Mary James, of Gaffney Lane, Broken Hill, New South Wales, William John James was born on 17 March 1892. He was educated at Alma Public School in South Broken Hill. 

Upon his enlistment on 28 November 1914, at Oaklands, he stated that he was single and living with his parents at Broken Hill. He was also working as a labourer at the time and belonged to the Church of England. Although he stated that he had no previous military experience he had been in the school cadets. He was allocated to the 2nd Reinforcements of the 10th Battalion and embarked at Melbourne on HMAT Clan Macgillivray (A46) on 2 February 1915.  

Leaving Australia with the 10th Battalion he spent some time on the Gallipoli peninsula. Afterwards the expansion of the AIF followed and the 10th Battalion was split in two, with half, including James, going to form the new 50th Battalion. This new Battalion spent some Egypt training before relocating to Europe. On the Western Front he joined a machine gun section of the battalion and served at Mouquet Farm in mid August 1916. The commander of the 4th Division specially congratulated Sergeant James on his bravery and devotion to duty, which he demonstrated in battle and he was recommended to be MID, however, this never occured.

In early 1917 the 50th Battalion was ordered to assault the fortified village of Noreuil, near the Hindenburg Line after the Germans had retreated to this town. They encountered heavy opposition in their advance, and the attack quickly broke down. Whilst C and D Company continued to attack they were seperated from A Company on the far right. One platoon of A Company came under very heavy fire and were forced to lie flat in shell holes to avoid being killed; one man who climbed a bank to see where the enemy was firing from had the ground shot out from underneath his feet and narrowly escaped death.

At that moment James arrived with his gun crew. He jumped out into the open and managed to get one burst off when he was shot in the head and killed instantaneously. The platoon he was endeavouring to protect was later captured by the Germans, and was interned in a prisoner of war camp for the remainder of the war. Before they were taken, however, they used the body of Bill James to hide the machine gun from the Germans, ensuring that valuable weapon did not fall into the hands of the enemy. For his final action in war he was found to be deserving of special mention , and had his name published in Sir Douglas Haig s Despatch of 1 June 1917.

He was originally buried at Noreuil Australian Cemetery, however, his grave was subsequently destroyed by artillery fire. Sergeant James, therefore has a special memorial within the cemetery with the title 'known to be buried in this cemetery' at the top of it. He was 25 years old. 

His headstone epitaph reads: SLEEP ON DEAR JOHN SWEETLY REST WE MISS YOU MOST WHO LOVED YOU BEST

 

1914/15 Star: 4185

British War Medal: 7930

Victory Medal: 7892

Memorial Plaque and Scroll: 316807

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