James Wild Firth
Date of birth: 9.5.1895
Date of death: 1.7.1916
Regiment: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (8th Battalion)
Family information: Son of Thomas and Lucy Ann Firth of Wrenthorpe
Service number: 15229
By 1916 James was Private 15229 in the KOYLI 8th Battalion and on the 1st July 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme – James was killed in action. According to the war diary the battalion were in trenches near Ovillers and attacked at 7.30am losing an estimated 10 per cent of its strength in the preliminary bombardment. They had slight loss in the first few waves of men in No Man’s Land but after that reported about a 60 per cent loss. Once they reached the German Lines fierce fighting took place to take control of the German 2nd and 3rd Lines of trenches. By 6pm the battalion withdrew and the diary reports that of 659 ordinary soldiers that took part in the operation only 110 returned that evening. Many were missing – the total for the whole of July was 314 missing men.
Unfortunately, as reported in the Wakefield Express on 30th September, his family had a long wait for information.
“WRENTHORPE FAMILY’S ANXIETY
Mr and Mrs Firth of Wrenthorpe have heard nothing of their son Signaller J W Firth since July 1st. No official notice has been received that he is missing. Letters have been sent to the War Office, but they are unable to give any information. Before enlisting, Firth worked at Park Hill Colliery.”
On 13th January the Wakefield Express reported that the family had received a letter from one of James’ comrades who said “Firth was wounded and that whilst the writer was attending to him he himself got shot and did not see anything of him again.” It went on to report that following persistent enquiries by the Vicar of Wrenthorpe he had received “a communication from the adjutant stating that Firth was seen lying dead on the battlefield by two signallers on July 1st”. It carried on saying that he was 21 years old and had enlisted in August 1914. He had attended the United Methodist Church, where he was a Sunday School teacher. He went to France on 9th May 1916 (his 21st birthday), having been in England in hospital suffering from “ground” fever – probably another name for Trench fever.
On January 27th the Wakefield Express printed the following
“ST ANNE’S CHURCH – A memorial service was held on Sunday afternoon for Signaller J W Firth, killed in action on July 1st. The Vicar (Rev J H Kirk) gave an address and at the close of the service the organist (Mr F Butterfield) played the ‘Dead March’ and ‘The Last Post’. Suitable hymns were sung with much feeling.”
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records state that he was the son of Thomas and Lucy Ann of 8, St Anne’s Terrace, Wrenthorpe, although in other records they are said to live at number 5. James was remembered on the Thiepval Memorial as well as Wrenthorpe and was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
The following year there were memorials from his family and also from his sweetheart Lucy. He is also remembered on the family grave at St Paul’s Churchyard, Alverthorpe.
James Wild Firth was born on May 9th 1895 son of Thomas and Lucy Ann and baptised at Wrenthorpe Methodist Church on June 9th.
In 1901 the family were living at Brooks Fold, Sunny Hill next door to James Hudson who also lost his life during WW1. James’ father was a coal miner and he had two older sisters – Emma (b1891) and Annie (b1893) – and two younger sisters – Miriam (b1897) and Florrie (b1898) as well as a younger brother Thomas Henry who was a month old.
By 1911 the family were living at Marshlands Buildings with his parents and 8 siblings where James Firth was a rope boy aged 15. Lucy and Thomas had had 10 children of which one, Florrie, had already died. All the rest of the children were still at home with the eldest two girls working in the mill. In this census there was also the addition of William (b1906), Henry (b1908), Edgar (b1909) and Sarah (b1910).