James Simpson

Name James Simpson
Corps Northamptonshire Regiment, 6th Battalion
Rank Private
Service No. 15148
Date of entry 25 July 1915
Date of death 4 June 1917, killed in Action
Memorial/ Grave C2 Rookery British Cemetery, Heninel

James Simpson was one of seven children born to Francis William Simpson and his wife Annie nee Goulding of Mill Road, Cottingham. Annie was from Stroud in Gloucestershire.
The extended Simpson family had lived in Cottingham since the early seventeenth century. Many of the male Simpsons were stone masons but James’ father Francis and grandfather Thomas were both gardeners.

Unusually, two of James’ female relatives also appeared in the census as gardeners in their own right. In 1841 his widowed great grandmother Sarah occupied a cottage in the grounds of Bury House and was listed thus; her unmarried daughter Eleanor (James’ great aunt) was listed as a gardener into the 1860s when she was running the business from the Garden House in Mill Road.
Thomas Simpson and his wife Jane nee Groocock, a distant relative of Harriet, mother  of George Lewin, had moved from Water Lane to the Garden House by 1871, probably after Eleanor’s death in 1866. Francis was their only child and continued to live there until at least 1911.

James was born in1883, his parents’ fifth child and third son. His brothers, Edwin and Alfred, died in 1910 and 1911 respectively leaving James, an ironstone worker, his eldest brother Thomas who was a stoker on the railway, and three sisters. Their mother Annie died in 1907.

James enlisted as a volunteer on 25 July 1915 and joined the 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment which was under the command of Colonel George Eustace Ripley of Bury House. William Claypole of Cottingham, Arthur Edmund Chambers (son of Samuel Chambers and cousin to Thomas William Chambers) and Joe Goode of Gretton were also in this Battalion.

The 6th was raised in September 1914 as part of Lord Kitchener’s 2nd New Army and landed in France on 26 July 1915. It formed part of the 54th Brigade in the 18th (Eastern) Division and spent the first winter in trenches at Suzanne and Fricourt on the Somme, three miles east of Albert. The Battalion was under constant heavy enemy bombardment and also in peril from the many landmines the Germans had laid there. A shortage of ammunition limited what retaliation the British troops could attempt.  Their situation worsened in December when the Germans threw more than 2000 shells, many of them teargas.

In 1916 the 6th joined the 12th Middlesex in capturing Trones Wood, largely in hand to hand fighting on 14 July, and then took part in the capture of Thiepval. Casualties in both actions were very heavy and included Col. Ripley. Afterwards the 6th remained in trenches in the Albert area over the winter. 

In February 1917, in exceptionally severe weather, the 6th fought towards Grandcourt and thence to Thiepval, pursuing the Germans as they fell back to the strong defences of the Hindenburg Line to the North East of Arras. In April the British went into battle in support of the French army in the Arras Offensive. Initially the attack failed. Following the Battle of Cambrai in which losses were around 4000 men a day, many of the French troops mutinied and the British army took over the lead.  From 3-4 May the 6th Battalion fought in the 3rd Battle of the Scarpe (a phase of the Arras Offensive) where the 18th Division was under the command of General Allenby.

The Arras Offensive was over by 16th June, by which time James was dead. He was reported as killed in action on 4 June and is buried in the small Rookery British Cemetery, Heninel, along with thirteen other soldiers from the 6th Battalion who died in early June. Heninel is a small village ten kilometres south-east of Arras, within the zone covered by the Offensive.

Rookery British Cemetery is just outside the village near the road to Fontaine-les-Croisilles (Hubert Prest Stokes had died following fighting there a few weeks earlier). It holds fifty five First World War burials, all but one identified. Heninel had been captured by the British that April and the small cemetery, named from a group of trenches there, was begun shortly afterwards. It would seem possible that James and his fellow soldiers were fighting in these trenches when they were killed.

James was survived by his father Francis who died in 1933 aged eighty seven.