Date of birth: 1885
Date of death: 22.4.1917
Regiment: York and Lancaster
Family information: Son of Henry and Delilah Clifton of Bragg Lane End Wrenthorpe
Service number: 8434
James was mobilised at Pontefract on 5th August 1914 and was Private 8434 in the York and Lancaster Regiment.
James’ service records survive although are in bad condition due to fire damage. Parts that are legible show that he “deserted”. He was apprehended in Potovens (i.e. Wrenthorpe) on 13th April 1916 and placed in detention, but on the 22nd April he managed to escape. He was apprehended once more on 9th May and awarded 14 days detention and forfeited 18 days’ pay. Could this have been a reaction to the loss of his brother who was killed the previous December? They were obviously close having served together in the same regiment for many years. He was returned to France under arrest arriving in Le Havre on 9th June re-joining the battalion where he was tried by court martial and sentenced to death on 30th June 1916. Although the verdict was confirmed, the sentence was commuted to 10 years penal servitude on 5th July. James then returned to service although all his previous service was discounted as part of his punishment and finally on 4th October 1916 his sentence was remitted “for Gallant Conduct in the Field between 13th and 27th September 1916”.
Looking through the war diary for this period it seems that on 14th September the battalion was at Malz Horn Farm but received orders to take part in an attack and by 7.50am on 15th they had reached the NW corner of Leuze Wood. At 7.35am on 16th they took part in an attack on the Quadrilateral trench but by 7.50am the attack had failed as “the attack on both sides lost direction and missed objective”. The following day was spent bombarding the enemy with heavy artillery and at 5.50am on the 18th they made a second attack, this time being successful in moving forward to where the enemy had been and capturing 3 machine guns and 51 prisoners. The following day they were relieved and went to their billets at Morlancourt.
By April 1917 the battalion were in the Loos Section advancing in conjunction with the 1st Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, 1st Buffs and the 8th Bedfords. As they advanced the war diary notes that “hostile artillery (was) very active”. On 22nd April the 11th Essex and 14th Durham LI attacked the line Dynamite Magazine – Nash Alley. B and D companies in James’ battalion were in support of the DLI and “became heavily engaged” and managed to capture a machine gun. The enemy counter-attacked repeatedly “but was repulsed”. It appears that it was during this encounter that James was killed in action as he died on 22nd April. He is remembered on the Loos Memorial.
The Wakefield Express documented the family’s contribution to the war effort on May 19th 1917:-
“WRENTHORPE FAMILY’S RECORD
FIVE SONS AND FOUR SOLDIERS
TWO KILLED AND ONE WOUNDED
Official intimation has been received of the death in action on April 22nd of Lance-Corporal James Clifton, of the York and Lancaster Regiment. He was a Wrenthorpe man and lived with his parents at Carr Gate. Clifton who was a single man and 32 years of age, was an old soldier and prior to being called up at the outbreak of war worked at the Lofthouse Colliery. Another son, Private Alfred Clifton (20) who is in the KOYLI has been slightly wounded in the present fighting and is in hospital in France. He also worked at Lofthouse pit and enlisted under the Lord Derby Scheme. The eldest son, Lance-Coporal Albert Clifton (35), of the York and Lancashire Regiment, was killed in December 1915. He was an old soldier, having been in the army twelve years, part of which time he was stationed in India. At the outbreak of war he was at Limerick, Ireland. The fourth son is Lance-Corporal Henry Clifton (22), who is at present in France.”
In the same edition there were memorials from his family and his “Sweetheart, Clara”.
The Service Medal and Award Rolls show James was awarded the Victory and British War Medals but in the roll for the 14 Star it says “no medal” and “Killed in action 22.4.1917 Forfeited on Desertion”. Whatever the reasons for him coming home in 1916 he was certainly no coward as he proved later.
James Clifton, like Albert, was a son of Henry and Delilah of Bragg Lane End Wrenthorpe and was baptised at St Anne’s Wrenthorpe on 27th October 1886 along with his brother Albert and sisters Lucy and Anne Elizabeth.
In 1891 the family were living at Wheel Hill and by 1901 James had become a horse driver below ground in the pit. The 1911 census gives us quite a lot of information as like many forms it has been incorrectly filled in with details of all the family rather than just those still at home. It tells us that Henry and Delilah have had 10 children of whom 6 were still living. Daughter Annie Elizabeth had married and left home; Henry, Alfred and Arthur were still living at home but the two eldest sons Albert and James were on army service.
In the 1911 Census James can be found in India with the 1st Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment along with his brother Albert. Records show that he enlisted aged 19 years and 3 months and that he was 5ft 8in with red hair and a fresh complexion. He was passed fit for service on the 16th May 1906. I believe he was made a Lance-Corporal in 1908 but he reverted to Private at his own request in 1913 and transferred to the army reserve later that year.