In an earlier blog I told the story of the Memorial at Manchester to the fallen railwaymen of Manchester London Road & shared some of the stories of those men.
A couple of years ago whilst attending a service of remembrance at the memorial I met a lady whose relative was named on the memorial. We got talking as you do and she told me it was a chap called James Thomas Winder and that he was her Grandfather. She knew little about him except that he’d died in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. So want that I am I offered to try and find some more information for her and contact her with anything I could find.
So what follows is James’s story that I could piece together & I hope by sharing with you that it helps to bring another lost soul into the fold & ensures that James Winder isn’t forgotten.
James Thomas Winder was born on the 9th February 1886 in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. The trail goes a little cold then I can’t seem to find the family in 1891 or 1901. However on 29th September 1898 a James Winder, 42 years old & a widower & employed as a Steel Dresser, marries a Jane Shepard, a 37 year old widow and they show their addresses as 67 & 70 Kendall Street, Openshaw, Manchester. Guessing this is how they met! This I believe to be James’s father & the Winder family next shows up in 1911 living at 8 Goole Street, Openshaw, Manchester. A Joseph Winder is shown as being born in 1897 in Bradford, Manchester so it’s a strong possibility that James’s mother died in childbirth giving birth to Joseph. ( Interestingly in April 1915 Joseph at only 5′ 2 1/2″ enlists in the 3rd Welch Regiment but is discharged 3 weeks later as unfit for service) James & a sister Elizabeth however don’t live with the family at this point.
In the 1911 census James is shown as living as a boarder at 212 Ridgway Street, Bradford, Manchester. This street still exists but the houses of old have been replaced in recent years by social housing. It’s still very much a working class area of Manchester to this day. James is shown working as a Capstanman for the Railway. He was employed by the London & North Western Railway Company at the nearby Manchester London Road, a 10 min walk away, in the Goods department which was under the station approximately where the Metrolink station now is. A capstan is a large revolving cylinder with a vertical axis used to wind rope/cable. He would have operated this most probably to lower railway wagons and/or goods to & from the tracks upstairs which sit now approximately where the DHL building and Upper Deck car park now are.
The next record I found for James was his marriage certificate for 18th November 1911 when he marries Sarah Harriet Acton at St Cross Church, Clayton, Manchester. James is shown Aged 24 & is employed as a Railway Porter and living at 8 Gamma Street, Clayton. Sarah is Aged 23, No employment & living at 95 Clayton Lane. His father is shown as James Winder, a steel dresser hence my link earlier.
On 8th August 1913 they have a son, also named James Thomas, who is baptised on 7th September 1913 at St Cross Church where his father is shown as a Railway Man & 2 years later on 26th August 1915 another son ,Albert Edward, is born.
Like so many Thomas’s service record doesn’t survive but from his entry in SDGW ( Soldier’s Died in the Great War) it states that he was originally in the Royal Army Medical Corps as Pvt 70817 but I can find no other evidence of this as his medal index card & medal roll makes no mention of this previous service. Incidentally on his Pension records there are several transcription errors, for example on one he’s 25526 & 15516 on another.
At the time of his death he was a Private (25516) in the 17th Battalion ( 1st South East Lancashire) Lancashire Fusiliers. This battalion was one of the service or Pals battalion’s formed at the beginning of the war. This battalion originally had been formed in Bury in 1914 as a Bantam battalion, Men who were under the required height 5′ 3″for military service. This particular battalion was posted to the Western Front in January of 1916 as part of 35th Division. Originally in the Richebourg St Vaast area they would move to the Somme on 10th July at Aveluy Wood & over the next few months would be involved in various activities around Maricourt & Montauban (The Battle of Bazentin Ridge, The fighting for Arrow Head Copse, Maltz Horn Farm, and Falfemont Farm). In September the moved to Arras where they would stay till February of 1917. In early 1917 they ceased to be a purely Bantam battalion. From the War Diary of the 17th Bn it does appear that at the end of September 1917 they received 264 new reinforcements so it is quite possible that James only transferred to the battalion then .Reports by HQ suggest these were men from a variety of units many without infantry experience. Below is a link I found by Terry Dean of the North Lancashire branch of The Western Front Association with some more information on the 17th Bn if you’d like to read more.
In September 1917 the Battalion were at Templeux-La-Fosse in France before at the end of the month being billeted in Peronne on the Somme. They were then in training before being moved up to Proven by rail crossing into Belgium. At this time the battle officially known as Third Battle of Ypres but more commonly known today as Battle of Passchendaele had been going on since 31st July 1917.
They proceeded to Boesinghe on 13th October 1917 before relieving the front line in an area called Houthulst Forest , North East of Ypres on 16th October. At this stage it wasn’t trenches as we commonly see them depicted but mostly just a serious of shell holes surrounded by a quagmire of mud & water made worse by the awful weather conditions that had occurred. Men were waist deep in water in many of these shell holes. At this point they were only in the line for 2 days before being relieved & headed back to rest at ‘H’ Camp.
On the 20th at 11.30am they marched from camp to Boesinghe where they had dinner and were issued with 2 days rations, stores, extra grenades etc. After orders were received they moved at 4.00pm via Hunters Trench to the sector at Egypt House. They were shelled all the way & suffered 10 casualties before arriving at their sector and forming up with the 5 Chemins to Columbo House road on their left. ‘W’ & ‘X’ companies took a 400 yd front. ‘Y’ Company were in shell holes North of Egypt House with ‘Z’ Company in holes South West of Egypt House.
Throughout the 21st men lay in shell holes avoiding low flying enemy aircraft circling above the front line. Overnight Battalion HQ moved to Egypt House from Pascal Farm and in the early hours of the 22nd October the battalion moved forward approx 100yds ahead of the Front Line ready to attack the German 120th (2nd Württemberg) Regiment who were in the forest (or what remained of it) ahead with an objective of taking & holding a line from Marechal Farm & to the right of 400yds. On the 17th battalions left was the 105th Infantry Brigade with the 16th bn Cheshire Regiment directly next to them, 14th Gloucester to the Cheshires left, 15th Sherwood Foresters in close support & 15th Cheshires in Reserve, and on the 17th bn right, as part of the same 104th Infantry Brigade, the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers then 23rd bn Manchester Regiment. The support would be from the 20th bn Lancashire Fusiliers with 17th Royal Scots in Reserve. The 101st Brigade,34th Division would be to the right and were supposed to make contact with the Manchesters before Zero Hour but this wasn’t achieved. To the left of the Gloucesters would be French troops of the 201st regiment, 1st French Division. The whole Divisional front would be some 2,000 yds reaching 2,500 yds at the final objective.
At 5.35am Zero Hour, British Artillery opened fire on the German lines and James and his comrades advanced forward. By 6am a message was received from Captain Heape M.C ,commanding ‘W’ Company ,that they had captured their objective, Columbo House, ” Have captured Columbo House. Best sport going- right in our own barrage” and by 6.45am all commanders reported that their objectives had been captured and that the battalion was starting to consolidate it’s positions.
An enemy machine gun and approx 20 German prisoners had been captured during their attack. They then advanced further and took Marechal Farm as there was no sign of the 16th Cheshire’s at that point on their left.
At around 8.30am Battalion HQ received a message from advance companies of the 17th Bn that they were uneasy at the situation on their flanks on both the right & left side as no contact had been made at all with Cheshire’s or Manchester’s. Indeed some elements of the Manchester’s & elements of the 16th Royal Scots from the 34th Division on the right had already retreated back towards the HQ from the direction of the Ypres-Staden railway line. These men were put into shell hole trenches in front of Egypt House & it was learnt form them that the left flank of the Division on the right had failed to come up for whatever reason thus exposing the right flank of the Manchesters who had then gone wide & lost contact with the 18th Lancashires who they themselves became disorientated and the gap got wider with added problems of enemy troops being left behind of which some Germans took advantage of. The reserve 20th battalion was ordered up to fill the gaps left by the Manchesters and the 18th bn then began to consolidate to the right flank of 17th bn. Eventually the 16th Cheshire’s caught up with the 17th on the left. The right flank however still remained very precarious.
All day the battalion came under fire from snipers & machine guns inside the woods as well as German Artillery fire once the Germans knew that the British had captured these new positions.
At 4.15pm a message was received at HQ from ‘Y’ Company of the 17th that the Germans were amassing troops in the wood on their right flank.
At 4.31pm an SOS flare was sent up by the 17th bn and messages were sent back that the enemy was attacking the Cheshire’s to their left flank and that artillery support was urgently needed. It appears that the Cheshire’s had lost most of their officer’s killed or wounded and they then began to retreat together with a company of Sherwood Foresters to Columbo House at 4.45pm. Only a score or so were able to be stopped by Captain Heape & officers of ‘Y’ company of 17th bn ,one of whom, 2nd Lt Crank, lost his life in trying to stop them.
Heavy Lewis gun & rifle fire as well as the artillery support managed to counter attack the Germans and pushed them back. ‘W’ & ‘Y’ Companies now held a line some 1000 yds deep & 300 yds wide! The men were exhausted due to the conditions and hard fighting, they had earlier failed to be able to keep up with the artillery barrage. But they had all fought with great courage & determination. By 6pm the decision was critical and the order to fall back to the support area around Columbo House and to maintain a line to the right to keep back the Germans was made.
This line was eventually consolidated during the night and the men issued with rations, water & fresh ammunition as well as a ration of rum which was brought up by men from HQ led by the Transport Officer. The rum was most welcome to those who had lain waist deep in shell holes all day.
Many wounded had lay out all due unable to be brought in due to snipers and also due to a shortage of stretcher bearer’s. Every effort however was made during the hours of darkness to try and bring as many in as possible.
British Artillery shelled all night and in the morning but no counter attack appeared until 4.30pm on the 23rd when the Germans attacked the left flank. This was eventually beaten back and the battalion was finally relieved by midnight by 17th Royal Scots.
Some men were so wet (It had been raining for 2 days) and weary struggled to make it back to Baboon camp not arriving back until 5am the next day.
The war diary for this battle states that the casualties sustained by the 17th bn were 4 Officers Killed, 8 Wounded, 32 Other Ranks Killed, 142 Wounded & 5 Missing.
James was one of those missing as his records show him as presumed killed. He could have lain out in no man’s land & died of his wounds there or his body, like so many, was lost to subsequent shell fire. Maybe he was hit by a shell and his death ,whilst dreadful, was instantaneous. We shall sadly never know. His wife Sarah would remarry by the time she & her 2 sons were awarded a pension in June 1918.
His name, along with 35,000 others who were lost in & around the area known as the Ypres Salient from 17th August 1917 and have no known grave, is inscribed on memorial panel 60 at Tyne Cot. A further 11900 are buried in the cemetery in front of the memorial with more than 8370 unknown. Just maybe one of these unknowns could be James.
James is also named on the War memorial in Clayton Park, Manchester.
Thank you as ever for taking the time to read James’s story. As ever if anyone can find any more info or a photo would be great then please do get in touch here or on twitter @Terriermcd
I must admit the Houlthurst Wood isn’t an area of the Salient that I haven’t really visited or for that matter know much about but once we can all return to the Salient it will certainly be a place on my list to visit.
Sources:- Ancestry.Com Census & War Diary records WO95/2484/1
@Fairylight on Twitter