James William Green

Totley War Memorial WW1 1914-1918

James William Green [1]
EnlargeJames William Green [1]
Mary Alice Green [7]
EnlargeMary Alice Green [7]
James William Green (known as Willie) was the first child of James and Mary Alice Green who married in Christ Church, Dore in 1895.

His paternal grandfather, another James, was a joiner and wheelwright working well into his seventies from his home in Chapel Walk (now called Chapel Lane).

He also owned a grocer's shop at the corner of Summer Lane, his wife Millicent being recorded as a grocer in 1861. The shop was photographed around 1906 where Willie's brother and sister appear with the shop manager. The owner can be seen to be James Green, Willie's father, his grandfather having died in 1901.

Willie's father was a mechanical engineer and for a short time after his marriage lived in Norton Woodseats where Willie was born on 17 December 1895.

By 1901 the family were back in Totley living in Grange Terrace, perhaps among the first to occupy one of these houses built at the end of the 19th century.

His mother, Mary Alice, also had the surname Green prior to her marriage to James Green. Their common ancestry appears to be in the early 19th century, making them second or third cousins. Mary Alice was a 17 year old kitchen maid at Totley Hall in 1891.

There still exist a number of studio portraits taken throughout her life. The one shown here was taken in 1887 when she was 14 years old and is reproduced in "Totley District in Old Photographs" by Brian Edwards.

She is remembered by her grand-daughter who recounts her talk of ailing horses being grazed on the bank below the Wesleyan Chapel where fine herbs in the grass helped their recovery. She had the sadness of losing another son who died in infancy when he drowned in the dolly tub.

Ivy Muriel Green, Willie's sister [4]
EnlargeIvy Muriel Green, Willie's sister [4]
Willie was admitted to Totley All Saints School in 1900, leaving to attend another school in November 1906. This is slightly unusual as the children of the village stayed at the school until the age of thirteen when they left to start work.

However it is quite possible that he moved to Dronfield Woodhouse Council School at the top of Mickley Lane, now in use as a nursing home. Extracts from the Committee Meeting Minutes, the only surviving document of the period, show that it won praise from inspectors for its standard of teaching, and that each year a small number of children won scholarships to Henry Fanshawe Grammar School.

In 1908 it recorded that there were 180 pupils and that 14 were from Totley Parish, which indicates it was not impossible that Willie would be there, then aged 12. His family remained in the village and his siblings in Totley All Saints School. In the 1911 census Willie had left school and was recorded as a joiner.

Willie enlisted in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 29 June 1915 as Service No. 18960 Pte James William Green, attesting at Chesterfield. He was allocated to the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment.

The 2nd Battalion were in France at the time, having been there since August 1914. They were stationed around Bethune and in August 1915 took over trenches near Givenchy about five miles out of town. The soldiers usually spent about four days in the trenches before being relieved and replaced for a few days rest, then back again. The Battalions received replacement men constantly as they suffered casualties - 40 men were received on 26 August, 85 men on 5 September, 25 men on 15 September, 16 men on 20 September. Willie will have spent a number of weeks training before being sent to join the Battalion, so it may well have been September or October before he reached the front.

Almost certainly Willie would have been part of the Battalion by November 1915. November was wet and trenches had to be repaired as they fell in. Things were reasonably quiet except for occasional shelling and sniping. It remained that way throughout the spring of 1916 and time was spent training, keeping trenches in good condition, and even playing football matches.

In July the 'real war' exploded with the Battle of the Somme and extracts from Major R M Owen's diary reveal the events leading up to Willie's death:

July 20th. The Regiment paraded at 9.20 a.m. and entrained at Pernes Station at 10.50 a.m.; arrived at Saleux, a little south of Amiens, at 4.35 p.m. Detrained, and had a long march (16 miles), not arriving at Corbie until after midnight. The men marched very well, only two falling out.

July 23rd. The Regiment marched at 10.30 a.m. to “Happy Valley”, [at the front] and arrived at 4.30 p.m. Enormous number of horses and vehicles here, all standing in the open. Bivouacked.

James William Green, front row, left
EnlargeJames William Green, front row, left
The following days were spent preparing for an attack to take Guillemont, the 2nd Ox and Bucks being responsible for taking and holding the railway station.

On July 29th the 5th Infantry Brigade issued orders for the attack, including these communications instructions:

Pigeons. There are 4 birds at Waterlot Farm and 4 at Bernafay Quick communication can be obtained at any time by this means. Birds fly to Corbie, and wires are sent back through 2nd Division. Total time taken, about 30 to 45 minutes to Brigade H.Q. It has been noticed that both pigeons and pigeon-flyers have been left, without a scrap of cover, sitting outside Battalion H.Q Both should be given a corner of a dugout.”

The Brigade also issued instructions to soldiers:

All troops taking part in the attack were ordered to carry 2 bandoliers and 3 grenades per man, in addition to the necessary picks and shovels, while “all companies going over the top” were to have water-bottles filled and one day's ration per man, in addition to iron ration.

July 30th. The push failed, and with many casualties being taken they withdrew.

August and September. Largely spent training with a short time in the trenches, although always taking casualties and having a constant need for more soldiers to replace those killed and wounded.

October. Much reconnoitring took place and eventually Willie was moved to a billet in Mailly Maillet.

October 25th. To trenches in Redan Section in relief of the 24th R. Fusiliers (left sub-sector) and 2nd H.L.I. (right sub-sector). As usual after a few days they were themselves relieved then returned on...

Nov 9th. The relief began up 6th Avenue about 4 p.m., and was effected without incident. The trenches were found to be, on account of the weather, in an appalling condition, in many places impassable, so that traffic was generally overland after dark.

About 9.20 p.m. Captain Peploe was very badly wounded by a sniper. He died a few minutes after being wounded while being brought in. Lieut. V. E. Fanning succeeded to the command of B Company.

Nov 13th. The day of Willie’s death. A number of Brigades were attempting to take and consolidate a part of the German Front Line known as “the Green Line” and it was during this attack that Willie was killed. The diary records “A Brief Narrative of Events”.

On at any rate the 5th Infantry Brigade front, the attack, which began at zero 5.45 a.m. by a short but heavy bombardment of the German Front Line System, came as a complete surprise to the enemy, and within the Green Line very little [if any] resistance was encountered.

Considerable inconvenience and some casualties were, however, caused by a party of about 40 Germans who remained for nearly 48 hours "unmopped up" in the German Front Line about the point to which it was intended to dig the Cat Street tunnel - possibly because they happened to be just at a point of junction between two attacking brigades, for which the troops of neither felt responsible.

The thick mist made keeping of direction very difficult.

Nov 19th. The long Battle of the Somme was halted due to bad weather. There were 420,000 British casualties during this action.

This letter is thought to be the last one received by his mother prior to his death. It says nothing of the dreadful conditions the soldiers were enduring as their correspondence was heavily censored. Neither does the envelope give any indication of where it was posted.

It reads as follows:

Dear Mother & Father

Willie Green's letter home
EnlargeWillie Green's letter home
Willie Green's letter home
EnlargeWillie Green's letter home
Just a few lines once again trusting they will find you all in the best of health as it leaves me at present.

I have received your parcel alright, & thank you ever so much for sending it. The pasty's were very good. Thank you very much for cigarettes.

I cannot understand why you have not had my last two letters. This is the third I have written in less than a fortnight. You must not worry about me as I am quite alright, anyway I hope this letter will reach you. Write back & let me know if you got it alright.

Well I have not much fresh news to tell you since I last wrote. I can't understand why you have not had my last two letters. Am hoping this one will arrive alright & once again thanking you ever so much for parcel.

Well I think this is about all this time so I will close with my best love to you all.

From your ever affectionate Son Willie XXXXXX XXXXXX

PS Please excuse my short letter. Will write again soon.

Willie Green's body was never recovered but he is remembered on Pier and Face 10A and 10D of the Thiepval Memorial together with 72,000 other soldiers who shared the same fate.

In their later years, his parents lived on Mickley Lane, moving there when the houses were new. His father died in 1941, his mother in 1950 and both are buried at Christ Church, Dore.

Totley War Memorial Project Group