Born in 1884 James was one of six children of Samuel and Mary Holland of Northwich. Samuel worked in a boat building yard as a carpenter. In 1901 James age 17 was working as labourer. By 1911 the family had moved to 8 Oldhams Hill, Winnington, James was now working as a domestic gardener.
He enlisted into the Cheshire Regiment on the 30th August 1914, his given age was 30, he was 5ft 8 inches, a fresh complexion with brown eyes and hair, on the 15th September he was posted to the 10th battalion. In March 1915 he was promoted to Lance Corporal but was reduced back to a Private in June after an offence of slovenly conduct in Station Road, Aldershot and refusing to obey order given by the Military Police. He stayed in the UK training for just over a year and then on the 26th September 1915 he and the 10th Battalion embarked at Folkestone landing in Boulogne at 2am on the 27th. On the 12th February 1916, he was promoted back to Lance Corporal.
On the 8th May 1916 the battalion were in the trenches near to Vimy, James was in charge of a section of four men ordered to man an outpost. The war diary for the day reads: Trenches 8/5/16 Considerable damage was done to our left during the morning and afternoon chiefly by the fire of heavy trench mortars, this fire was very accurate especially when directed at the communication trench. Between 6 and 7pm three of the enemy deserted and gave themselves up to one of our posts, they belonged to the 2nd battalion of the 5th Regiment of Guards, 8th Company. Their physique was excellent, uniform clean and smart and of good quality. They were intelligent men and very ready with information. They said they were from Alsace and did not want to fight against us, they expressed themselves as being dissatisfied with their treatment on this front and had taken the opportunity while on a listening post of deserting. The Regiment had been fighting on the Russian front.
8:15pm We exploded a mine in front of our right company’s section, we successfully occupied the lip without casualties and were engaged during the hours of darkness in consolidating the position, our lip was higher than that of the enemy, three excellent posts were established and made quite strong before dawn.
The mention of three enemy deserters in the diary is significant, it was during this incident that James was arrested, 10 days later on the 18th May he was tried by F.G.C.M for Misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice.
There were two charges
Misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice
When on active service leaving his post without orders from his superior officer.
What follows is the transcript of his trial
2 Lt. F.J. Oats. 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
I produce plan 'A', made by me, representing the outpost line held by our Bn. on 8th May '16. The scale is approximately correct. The ink line represents the German front line, and X represents a German barricade and probable listening post.
I also produce plan 'B', made by me, representing the Battalion frontage held by our Bn on 8th May '16. The scale is approximately correct. The four bombing posts in the outpost line are out of sight of one another. On the 8th May the trenches were held from left to right by 'D' 'C' 'B' + 'A' Companies.
16217 Sergt. Staunton of 10th Cheshire Regt. Sworn Statement:
About 2.30am on 8th May '16 Accused and 4 men came to relieve me and my 4 men at No 1 post. I changed the sentries and my sentry handed over to the accused's sentry. In my presence and Accused's presence my sentry told Accused's sentry the duty of the post; to keep sharp look out along the old communication trench towards the German barricade, to keep a look out over ground, and to warn the NCO in charge (i.e. the Accused) of any unusual occurrence. I handed over the bombs to the Accused, about 50 boxes and said " You've no need to be afraid, you've plenty of bombs in case they do happen to come over."
I told him that he would be visited by a patrol from B Coy on the right at the half hour. I meant at 3.00am but I do not think that I made this clear to the Accused. I did not hand over any other instructions to the Accused; no other instructions were given to me when I took over the post.
The regular tours of duty on these posts were 24 hours; Accused had been on this duty before. Accused took over the post in the ordinary way without any further conversation. It was dark at the time. Accused seemed alright. During my turn of 24 hours’ duty the enemy had left No.1 post quiet. After handing over to the Accused I went back to the front line.
15791 Pte. Santley of 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
I am in the Accused's section. I was one of the four men under the Accused, who took over No.1 post about 2.30am on 8th May '16. I and Pte. Houghton took the first turn of sentry duty. From the time when we took over the post until 1pm the post was quiet. From then till about 5 or 6pm the enemy sent over minenwerfer, about one every half hour, in the direction of No. 3 post. In our post we were all watching this and talking rather anxiously. About 6pm I went on duty, relieving Pte. Perks. About 2 minutes later I saw two men dressed in bluish suits like French miners, coming towards my post, one was in the old German trench and the other was coming over ground. I halted the one in the trench, about three yards away from me; he said something that I could not understand. I saw the other man get into our front-line trench which joins up the posts, over to my right. I looked for Accused to give him the alarm, but I could not see him. I saw Pte. Parks, Pte. Parks got up with his rifle. Pte. Parks moved off a bit to my right. I remained at my post. The man in the trench went back. I did not fire at him as I was not sure that he was a German. Two or three minutes later Lieutenant Withers came along with a bombing party and Pte. Perks came back to me in front of Lieutenant Withers. I was then alone in the post. I did not see Accused, Pte. Houghton, or Pte. Done, leave the post, but they were not there when Lieutenant Withers arrived.
Cross-examined by Accused.
The German in the old trench came into our trench. He was unarmed. Accused complained to me in the morning that his head had been bad all day. About the time when I saw the two Germans, I heard someone raise the alarm; it may have been the Accused.
28149 Pte. Perks J of 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
I was one of the men under the Accused, who took over the No.1 post about 2.30am on 8th May '16. The Post was quiet except that the enemy was sending either grenades or mortars out on our left. Between 5 and 6pm I was relieved by Pte. Santley. I sat down with my coat over my head. About 10 minutes later I heard shuffling of feet, I looked up saw Santley moving about. I covered my head again. I heard more shuffling. I looked up and saw Accused running towards Broadmarsh, about 20 yards away from me and Pte's Done, Houghton and Santley following him. I turned around and saw what I thought was a French miner about 5 or 6 yards behind me in our trench. I ran after the others. I caught up accused just beyond an archway about 10 yards down Broadmarsh. 'There was no bombing or firing, or anything unusual going on at this time, nor had I heard anything unusual before I ran. Accused fired one shot towards the German Trench. We all ran on again. We came to the Bombing post at the bottom of Broadmarsh. I stopped. The others came back. We returned to our post and shortly after were put under arrest. I did not stay in the post with Pte. Santley till Mr Withers arrived. Pte. Santley was running away too. We were visited in the post about midday by our platoon officer Mr Withers and we may have been visited at other times but I am not sure.
Cross-examined by Accused
It was about 5 or 6 yards down Broadmarsh that I caught up with the Accused by the archway. Accused was the furthest of us away from the archway Accused stayed behind for a moment to fire a shot.
14871 Pte. Done S. of 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
I was one of the party under Accused in No. 1 post on 8th May '16. We took the post over about 2.30am. (l heard nothing said about any patrol from 'B' Coy.) Between 5 and 6pm Pte. Santley was on duty and 3 of us lay close by. Accused was about 10 or 15 yards on the right of the post, looking over the parapet towards the German lines. The other men began to stir and I looked up to see if there was an aerial torpedo. When I looked down again the Accused and the other three men had gone. Two Germans jumped over the parapet into the trench, one on each side of me. I had my rifle close by me. I grabbed at my rifle, which caught in some wire. I left my rifle and ran after the other men. I next saw the Accused at Coy. HQ with Captain Ellerton. The Captain sent us back to our post, later we were relieved and put under arrest. No questions.
18146 Pte. Houghton S. of 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
I was one of the party in No.1 post under the accused on 8th May 1916. We took over the post about 2.30am. I heard nothing said about a patrol from 'B' Coy. About 6pm Santley was on duty and Accused was a few yards away from the post leaning on the side of the trench, facing towards the German lines. I saw Accused run, Perks and Santley followed, Perks kicked me in the back, and I got up and followed. I ran till I passed 'the Accused at the bridge in Broadmarsh. Accused was on one knee and told me to get out of the way and said something about being able to hold them. I passed the Accused and then heard a shot. A few seconds later Accused ran past us to Company HQ. Done and I followed him. We saw the Captain who ordered us back. We returned to our post and shortly after we were put under arrest. I do not know why I ran. Before I ran I saw two men in grey jumping into the trench.
Cross Examined by Accused.
After the Accused ordered me out of his way at the Bridge, I went on, Perks and Santley were in front of me, and Done was behind me. Accused caught me up a few seconds later.
[Questioned] By Court.
'B' Coy's patrol came to the post between our return there and our arrest. We had not expected this patrol. I did not hear Accused give any alarm.
13676 Corpl. Rusted FW of 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
On the 8th of May I was NCO of the Bombing Post at the foot of Broadmarsh, close to Coy. HQ. About 5pm I was sitting in the dug-out. Accused came running down and said to me "The Germans are coming." Accused then went on. I got my bombing party out. Accused went from me towards Coy. HQ.
16313 Sergt. Lewis T. of 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
About 5pm on the 8th May '16 I was at Coy HQ. I was acting CSM. I heard excited voices in Guerin Trench; I saw Ptes Done and Houghton, had some words with them and then turned around and saw the Accused. I asked Accused what he was doing away from his post. Accused answered that two Germans had broken through on No.4 post and that he had come back to the post. Then Captain Ellerton arrived.
Accused has been with BEF since Sept. 1915
There was a lecture for all NCOs of the Company at Tincques a 'few days before. I cannot swear to seeing Accused there but he was not reported as absent. Captain Ellerton gave the lecture and said that these outposts must be held at all costs and in the event of any unusual occurrence the NCO in charge was to send a man back to report.
Questions by Accused.
Accused asked to see the MO on the morning of the 9th May.
Captain C F Ellerton. 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
I command 'C' Coy. to which Accused belongs. About 6.15pm on 8th May '16 near my Coy HQ the Accused came from the Guerin Trench and said something to me about No.4 post being rushed, so far as my recollection of his words goes. I said "What are you doing here? Get back to your post at once!" Accused went back and I followed him, and as we turned into Guerin Trench I saw Ptes Done and Houghton. I did not notice anything in particular about Accused's manner or condition, except that from it I gathered that something unusual had happened. I sent the men back to their post and went up with them. I saw Lieut. Withers in the trench. I relieved the whole post and put all the men under arrest.
There was an officer on duty all night in the outpost line and an officer responsible for the outpost line by day who only left it for meals. The officer only came away if things were quiet. As far as I recollect the 8th May had been quiet.
2/Lieut K S Withers. 10th Cheshire R. Sworn Statement:
Between 5 and 6 pm on 8th May '16 I was in the Guerin Trench. I command No.10 platoon to which Accused belongs. My platoon was holding all 4 post in the outpost line. Some alarm came along. I went as far as the Coy. Bombing post and then on the No. 1 post. The post was empty then. I did not see Accused until he was being put into arrest. I have told all my men, when going round there, that these posts are on no account to be vacated, and that if anything unusual happened, a report was to be made to Coy. HQ. by sending a man from the post.
I was the officer on duty for the outpost line and the Guerin Trench. I visited the 4 posts in the outpost line once every four hours by day, and remained in the outpost line all night.
Cross Examined by Accused.
Sergt. Wood told me that the Accused had complained of feeling sick all day. I heard this after the occurrence. Sergt. Wood said that Accused complained before the occurrence. It's quite possible that Accused was on duty at another post for 24 hours before taking over No. 1 post. My platoon at that time was almost 24 strong. Before taking over the outpost line my platoon formed the Coy Bombing post. The Accused may have been in charge of that post.
Accused elects to give evidence on oath and sworn statements:
About 2.30am on 8th May 1916 I took over No. 1 post and received instruction from Sergt. Staunton as to bombs; Sergt Staunton told me the night had been quiet. I cannot remember anything being said about a patrol from 'B' Coy and I never expected them.
The whole morning was quiet, except for some slight noises, as if of mines, which I heard beneath the post and reported to the officer when he visited me. After dinner, early in the afternoon, the enemy began sending grenades over towards our left, on the West Company's front. The day previous a grenade had landed on No. 1 post and I hereupon warned my men to be extra careful and keep a very keen look-out for grenades. None dropped near No. 1 post. We had tea. About 5.30pm I went to No.2 post and saw the platoon Sergt, Sergt Wood, since killed and asked him if I could be relieved for an hour so that I might go down and see the M.O. as I had had a violent headache all day. Sergt. Wood said that 2Lt Withers would be coming along shortly and it might be arranged then.
About 6 pm I was about 2 yards of the right of the post and was cleaning my rifle. I kept looking over the parapet towards the enemy. I suddenly saw 3 Germans coming towards the trench on my right. They seemed to be running and jumping in and out of shell holes. I shouted out "There coming over the top, give them something." I took hold of my rifle and went off to the right to the place for which I thought the Germans were making. I took up a position under the overhead markers at the corner of Broadmarsh and the out-post line. I was in a crouching position, firing an unaimed shot just over our parapet, to check the Germans. Suddenly there was a rush and 3 or 4 men in khaki went past me. A minute or so later I was getting up and heard somebody shout out "We're all prisoners." I looked round and found myself alone. I thought the whole outpost line had been rushed. I wanted to let the Headquarters know, and not thinking I was doing wrong I darted back myself. I reached the Bombing Post, passing several men in the trench. It did not strike me to send one of them to H.Q. I thought it better to take the news myself.
At the Bombing Post I shouted into the dugout "They have rushed the listening post, carry on with the bombers." Each man whom I passed in the trench, I told to stand to his rifle. I reached Coy. HQ and saw Capt. Ellerton, and said something similar to him about the outpost being rushed, and that they were all taken prisoners. Capt. Ellerton ordered me back to my post— I was back and found the post alight and about 5 minutes later I saw 2 men with fixed bayonets coming up the Trench from the direction of Coy. I asked them who they were a patrol of "B" Coy. then my relief arrived, and I was placed under arrest.
Previous to 2.30am on the 8th May I had been for 24 hours NCO in charge of the Bombing Post at the foot of Broadmarsh, with 7 men. I had to find 2 posts, relieving them every hour by day, and every two hours by night. There was no shelter there, and the only place to rest was the fire step. There was a small dug-out but I gave that to the man off duty. I had not been on No.1 post long before my head started to ache — I was being treated for Piles while in the trenches and I had had violent headaches, resulting from this for the past 24 hours. When I felt I could hold out no longer, I reported to Segt. Wood, as I have said. Early on the 9th May I asked the acting CSM if I might see the M.O. I heard no more about it. But I was medically treated at Bn H.Q. when we came out of the trenches. It was because I was medically unfit that I had no control over myself when this affair took place.
I was present when Capt. Ellerton gave the lecture to NCOs. I heard him say that NCOs. must not leave their posts on any account; I understood that these posts must be held at all costs; I did know, before I went on the post, that if anything unusual occurred, it was my duty to send one of my men to report and not to leave my post myself. When I saw the Germans there was nothing to make me think that it was an attack in force. Until I had heard the shout about "we're all prisoners" I had heard nothing to make me think that the outpost line had been rushed.
I came out to BEF with the Bn in Sept. '15. I have been a L/Cpl since 12th February
Previous to this occurrence I had twice been on duty in No. 4 post, in my opinion the worst of the 4 posts. We had been in that sector one tour of 6 days before, this happened on the 7th day of my second tour in that sector.
I have only a vague recollection of the affair, and cannot give details of what happened.
13676 Corpl. Rusted F.W. 10th Cheshire R. (recalled) Sworn statement:
At 2am on 8th May '16 I took over the duties of NCO in charge of Bombing Post at foot of Broadmarsh from Accused. The usual tour of duty for the NCO at that post was 24 hours. I posted my sentries each hour and rested between whiles.
Lieutenant Harrigan RAMC— MO 10th Cheshire R.
Previous to 8th May '16 The Accused was under my treatment in the trenches for Piles, he also complained of headaches. Accused was also losing blood from Piles. I saw the Accused about the 11th May and treated him then.
Finding on charge 1. Guilty
Finding on charge 2. Not Guilty
Capt. A.F. Noble. Adjt. 10th Cheshire R.
I produce A.F. B122 of Accused. A clean sheet, showing date of enlistment 30.8.14.
Character good — Date of last entry in Coy. Conduct sheet 12.6.15.
Capt. Ellerton (recalled) states,
I have known the Accused for about 15 months. His character is good and he has been quite an efficient NCO since he was made a L/Cpl about 3 months ago. He had a good report from the NCOs school, where he did a course at the 2nd Army School. I further add he has always done his duty properly, both as a private and as a NCO. I cannot ever recollect ever having any cause to complain of him.
The Accused has nothing further to add
I do not support the recommendation for mercy. I do not consider prisoner's state of health, or the length of his tour of duty, sufficient to affect the sentence. The state of discipline in the battalion is not good and I do not make any recommendation in mitigation of punishment, which I recommend should be carried out.
(Signed) Heathcote B.G.
Commanding 7 Brigade
HQ XVII Corps.
I agree with the remarks of the C.O. of 7th Inf. Bde. regarding the fact that the previous tour of duty as NCO in charge of the bombing post cannot be accepted as an excuse for his behaviour on this occasion. For the following reasons however, I recomend that the sentence be commuted.
A) The medical evidence bears out the accused's statement that he was not in a good state of health at the time.
B) Loss of blood caused by the accused's complaint may have given rise to the possibility of nervous exhaustion which may have been further increased by the strain of duty in the trenches.
C) The accused's character is good and he has done duty in the field with his battalion now for six months, the last three of which as a NCO. Throughout this period he has borne a good character as an efficient soldier in the field.
(Signed) Doran. B Major General Commanding 25th Div
I regret I cannot agree with the Divisional Commander's recommendation. I consider that this NCO shamefully abandoned his post at the threat of two possible Germans (one apparently unarmed). I further agree with the Brigadier's remarks as to the state of fighting discipline in this Battalion and can see no reason for commuting the sentence.
I therefore recommend that it should be carried out. (signed) J. Byng Lieut. General Commanding XVII Corps
Sentence was confirmed by C -in- C General Sir Douglas Haig on the 28th May 1916.
At 3:38am on the 30th May 1916 James was shot by firing squad.
Captain Ellerton who arrested James was killed in action the day after the trial on the 19th before James was executed, and Private Perks was killed in action on the 14th July
In 2006 James was one of 306 soldiers granted posthumous pardons
James is buried in Ecoivres Military Cemetery Mont St Eloi
His Duty Nobly Done