James Griffin

Name: James Griffin
6th (Service) Battalion, The York and Lancaster Regiment
Service Number
: 10902
Date of Death:
9 August 1915
Helles Memorial, Turkey

James Griffin

James Griffin was born in Batley on 6 March 1890, and baptised a couple of months later at St Mary’s.1 He was the only son of Herbert Griffin, who originally came from Sheffield, and his wife, Batley-born Mary Louise (née Freeman). The couple married shortly before James’ birth, with their marriage registered in the Dewsbury district in the January quarter of 1890.

The 1891 census shows Herbert working as a coal miner and Mary a cloth weaver, with family living at 5 Court, 4 Taylor Street, Batley.2 However, all this changed by the time of the 1901 census. James’ mother died, aged just 31, in April 1900. Her burial took place in Batley cemetery on 11 April 1900.3 It meant that James was subsequently brought up by his mother’s sister and her husband, Angelina and George Henry Marsden. The Marsdens never had any children of their own, so James became in effect their child. James is shown living with his aunt and uncle at 6 Hamburg Street, Batley.4 This was over the road from the two other boys who were also destined to become St Mary’s War Memorial men, Willie and Edward Barber.

James, now working as a cotton waste puller, was still living with his aunt and uncle in the 1911 census, at 11 Holland Street, (also known as Caledonia Road) Batley.5

Meanwhile, James’ father, Herbert, remarried in 19036 and settled in Wakefield with his new wife Ada (née Wilson).7 By 1912 the couple had four children, half-siblings to James: Frederick (born in 1904), John (registered in the first quarter of 1909), Annie (born in 1910), and Mary (born in 1912).

It appears that this separation between James and his father had a long-standing effect on what constituted the family. After James’ death, his widow, in compiling his next of kin for Army records, omits the still living Herbert – he died in May 1957,8 and all of James’ half-blood siblings. Though his aunt Angelina is named.9 His widow cannot have been unaware of her deceased husband’s father – although it is not know if he attended his son’s wedding he was named on the marriage certificate.

As indicated above, 22-year-old mill hand James married 20-year-old Louisa Harris, a domestic servant from Barnsley. The wedding took place at St Peter’s Parish Church, Barnsley on 26 May 1912.10 The couple’s daughter, Mary Louise, was born in Barnsley the following year, on 20 June 1913.11

James enlisted in Dewsbury within days of the outbreak of the war, on 19 August 1914.12 It is not clear if the Griffin family lived in the Batley area at the time, or Barnsley. He was described as well known locally in Batley. A newspaper report indicated that at one time he lived at Pit Lane in Carlinghow. However, there are no dates associated with this address.13 Also, his marriage took place in Barnsley, his daughter was born in Barnsley, and all indications in his service papers and elsewhere are that during the war his wife lived at 3, Wall Street, in Barnsley.14

At the time of his enlistment James’ civilian occupation was a rag grinder. For some reason he gave his age as 29. He stood at 5 feet 2½ inches tall, weighed in at 112lbs, and had a fresh complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair.15 He served as a Private with the 6th York and Lancaster Regiment, a battalion of Kitchener’s New Army, raised in Pontefract that August. Initially based in Grantham for training, they moved to Witley in April 1915. They came under command of the 32nd Brigade in the 11th (Northern) Division.

On 1 July 1915 they left Witley camp, arriving in Liverpool the following day. There they boarded the Troopship Aquitania, which had been converted to war-time service, sailing later that afternoon bound for the Mediterranean, and the Gallipoli campaign.16 Prior to her war service Aquitania was a Cunard Line sister-ship of the passenger liner Lusitania, famously torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on 7 May 1915 off the Head of Kinsale, Southern Ireland, on its way from New York to Liverpool with the loss of around 1,198 souls.

James’ voyage on the Aquitania was not without incident either. At 5.30am on the 4 July, 100 miles south of the Irish coast and less than two months after the sinking of the Lusitania, the alarm was sounded following a report of a submarine attack. Zig-zag manoeuvres were adopted and, thankfully, these averted any danger. They arrived safely at the Greek Island of Lemnos on 10 July 1915 without much further excitement, dropping anchor at Mudros Bay.17

Fighting at Gallipoli, the peninsula to the west of the Dardenelles Straits, took place between British (including large contingents of Indian troops) and French troops of the Allies against Turkish troops from April 1915 and January 1916. However, it is probably better associated with the soldiers of the first ANZAC – the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – being the scene of their first action in the Great War. This despite the British and French contingents outnumbering the ANZACs both in terms of numbers and casualties.

Gallipoli was seen as a way by politicians, such as Churchill, to attack Germany by ‘the back door.’ However, it was a hastily planned campaign, and the conditions at Gallipoli, a narrow peninsula measuring 10 miles wide at its broadest point, and 45 miles long, were appalling. The peninsula was comprised of rocky, scrub covered terrain, with little water, and steep-sided hills full of deep gulleys and ravines. Intense heat encouraged flies and vermin, especially when combined with the number of unburied bodies. It meant epidemic sickness was rife amongst troops who fought there. James was not at Gallipoli long enough though for illness to effect him.

According to the Unit War Diary, on 20 July 1915 orders were received that the Battalion should be prepared to move to Cape Helles, Gallipoli, at short notice. It was thought that the Turks were contemplating a final decisive attack on Allied Forces at Gallipoli, and were collecting a force of about 100,000.18

Two days later, on 22 July 1915, the Battalion embarked for the Turkish island of Imbros on the SS Uganda, a staging post for the allied Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Here final training took place in preparation for their attack, including practicing embarking on lighters and effecting a landing.19

Panoramic view of army camps at Imbros with the harbour in the left background, 1915, Photographer Lt Ernest Brooks, © IWM Q 25164, IWM Non Commercial Licence

It was from here that James wrote his last letter to his aunt Angelina. Dated 28 July 1915, it contained the following:

I am in the Dardanelles somewhere. I am quite well. I have not been in the trenches yet, but I do not think I shall be long now. I can hear the guns going off. It is a very hot climate here. There are one or two Batley lads here out of another lot. I cannot get writing paper: it is very scarce here.20

But by the time it came to make the move to Gallipoli, the plans had changed. The destination was no longer Cape Helles. On 6 August the 6th York and Lancasters left Imbros and disembarked late that night at Suvla Bay.

Lt Edmund Yerbury Priestman, of the 6th York and Lancaster, wrote of the landings, and the secrecy around destination and final orders:

Lying by the temporary landing-stage were half a dozen steam-driven “lighters,” long black barges capable of carrying two hundred or more men, and, in open blue waters beyond, more of these lighters were plying backwards and forewords between the shore and the small fleet of torpedo destroyers lying half a mile away. As soon as one of the lighters was packed with khaki form the thick masses of men on the shore, it steamed away and its place was taken by a new one, on to which fresh lines of troops filed, till it too was packed to its full capacity. Then out it would put, carrying a dense freight of singing Tommies, whose legs swung hazardously over the bulwarks and whose heels kicked time to their favourite song: “Are we downhearted? No, not while Britannia rules the waves (not likely!!)”

It was well on towards evening before the last load of Bulldogs was transferred to the boats, and, as if to wish us parting “Good luck,” the sun went down in the most glorious of many wonderful sunsets we had seen during our stay at Imbros. Moreover, with night came an army of clouds like a legion of angels to guard us from the eyes of our enemies. Then, as silently as their protecting wings were slowly spread over the deepening blue, so silently we began to move out of the harbour into the unknown.

Over the packed decks there hung a tense atmosphere of suppressed excitement, too full for spoken or musical comment, officers and men alike rearranging their respective outlooks upon life to suit the new conditions and great adventures looming among the shadows ahead.

And so the night deepened and our world narrowed down to a vague circle of deep indigo sea in which we slid quietly forward, alone save for the occasional glimpse of a companion torpedo-boat slipping ghost-like out of the gloom for a moment, to be swallowed again in the darkness.

And now came a thrill. The sealed orders containing our programme for the coming landing were to be opened. Crowded round a map, we traced the proposed movements of the various regiments to be engaged…So now we knew our part in the game….There was a low hill to be taken, a gun to be silenced, a tract of plain to be crossed, and then we should meet the first prepared position and the first real engagement….

And now on our starboard bow we could see flashes of heavy guns, spurts of yellow light on the flanks of the dim hills that had come into view, where shells were bursting, and an occasional glare of a star-shell hung like a lamp over the scene…

Slowly our boat comes to a stop, and the absence of the rushing waves under her bows leaves a silence that can be felt hanging over the waters of the little bay in which we find ourselves. Only away on our right comes the distant rattle of a volley and the dull boom of an occasional gun at Anzac…

A lighter glides alongside us out of the shadow of the beach, and as it draws near —crack, crack, r-r-r-r-r-rattle, crack!!! From among the black mounds inland a sharp crackling of rifles, and then silence again. As the echo dies away over the still water all our conjectures return. If the Turks are driven back, whose is this firing…

Orders here have to be given quietly, and allows in whispers we get the men into formation on the rough, pebbly beach…

We are all ashore now and the boats in the bay are mere brooding shadows on a stretch of dull grey, though the thought of their protecting guns is still with us as we lead a way over the gravel into the blackness beyond. To meet—-what?…

As we push on, through sweet, sickly-smelling scrub now, the darkness in front takes the form of a peaked hill and we meet the first slopes of its flank…

On the steeper slopes of the peaked hill our formation is altered to four long lines, one in front of the of another, each man two paces from his neighbour (though they will bunch up for mutual comfort…)

Our front line has met something exciting now, and — “spit, spit, whisss!” a swarm of bullets rushes over our heads into the night. We scramble on among the rough stones of the hillside and find ourselves on the edge of a long, deep trench, where are lying discarded rifles – and their owners…

The desultory rifle fire has ceased, but as we reach the hilltop a shell – our first – flutter over and bursts behind us, followed by another and another. But we are safe in a dip of the hill now, and there we stay until dawn brings with it more shells and an advance over two miles of open ground under shrapnel and rifle-fire into an engagement the details of which would form another chapter, though no one which I at any rate, shall never write.21

Map showing Suvla Bay landings from 6 August 1915, © IWM Q 70564, IWM Non Commercial Licence

Days of fighting ensued, the 6th York and Lancaster’s first taste of battle. On the 7 August they advanced towards Hill 10, with the lower slopes of Chocolate Hill being reached later that day. Then orders were received for the for the 32nd Brigade to return to Hill 10, where they bivouacked overnight. The following day, the 8 August, they advanced towards Sulajik. It was in this area, on 9 August, that James was killed in action. Severe fighting took place throughout the day, ground being alternately gained and lost.22

Observing from the bridge of the Triad at Imbros, General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote of the events on 9 August:

The enemy counter-attack was coming from the direction of Tekke Tepe and moving over the foothills and plain on Sulajik. Our centre made a convulsive effort (so it seemed) to throw back the steadily advancing Turks; three or four companies (they looked like) moved out from the brush about Sulajik and tried to deploy. But the shrapnel got on to these fellows also and I lost sight of them. Then about 6 a.m., the whole lot seemed suddenly to collapse:—including the right! Not only did they give ground but they came back—some of them—half-way to the sea. But others made a stand. The musketry fire got very heavy. The enemy were making a supreme effort. The Turkish shell fire grew hotter and hotter. The enemy’s guns seemed now to be firing not only from round about Anafarta Sagir, but also from somewhere between 113 and 101, 2,500 yards or so South-west of Anafarta. Still these fellows of ours; not more than a quarter of those on the ground at the outset—stuck it out. My heart has grown tough amidst the struggles of the Peninsula but the misery of this scene well nigh broke it…

Between 7.30 and 8.0 the Turkish reinforcements at Suvla seemed to have got enough. They did not appear to be in any great strength: here and there they fell back: no more came up in support: evidently, they were being held: failure, not disaster, was the upshot: few things so bad they might not be worse. By 8.0 the musketry and the shelling began to slacken down although there was a good deal of desultory shooting. We were holding our own; the Welsh Division are coming in this morning; but we have not sweated blood only to hold our own; our occupation of the open key positions has been just too late! The element of surprise—wasted! The prime factor set aside for the sake of other factors! Words are no use.

Looked at from the bridge of the Triad—not a bad observation station—the tendency of our men to get into little groups was very noticeable: as if they had not been trained in working under fire in the open. As to the general form of our attack against the hills on our right, it seemed to be what our French Allies call décousu. After a whole day’s rest and preparing, there might have been more form and shape about the movement. Yet it was for the sake of this form and shape that the Turkish reinforcements have been given time to get on to the heights. Our stratagems worked well, but there is a time limit set to all make-believes; the hour glass of fate was set at forty-eight hours, and now the sands have run out.23

The Battalion were relieved on the evening of 11 August, retiring to Lala Baba to bivouac. The following day they reorganised and numbers were checked. The roll call showed that, in the period between landing at Suvla Bay and the relief on 11 August, two officers and eight other ranks had been killed; a further five officers and 57 men were wounded; and three officers along with 207 men were missing.24

Priestman picks up events again in a letter dated 13 August 1915 which includes the chilling lines:

Without any attempt at the dramatic, I have lived a week in a hell worse than anything ever written or spoken would possibly suggest. To describe the smallest incident would be to ask you to go down into the pit too, the very last thing I could wish anyone I loved to do.25

The Batley News of 11 September 1915 gave a further illustration of the severity of the fighting in which James’ Battalion had taken part. It came in the form of a letter from Sergeant Precious, a Barnsley man, with the 6th York and Lancasters. He describes the events of those initial engagements as being hell let loose. He wrote:

“It simply rained shrapnel on us” he says “and we have suffered, but the Turks suffered trebly. The Yorkshire lads have been complimented for their gallant conduct. We keep pegging away at the enemy.

Shells are flying over thick as I write but we are all in good spirits and determined to wipe the Turks out. Give our best wishes to all at Barnsley, and let them know that some of our best blood is no more, and we are seeking revenge.

All who are able to come out should do so and help us in the trenches.”

James’ service records, in a report dated 17 August 1915, simply note he was killed in action on 9 August 1915 in the Dardanelles, and that his burial place was unknown.26 The terrain and close fighting at Gallipoli often precluded the burial of the dead.

James’ badly damaged service papers also indicate some of his personal property was returned to his widow in December 1915 and March 1916. Unfortunately the paperwork is too faded to read what these effects were.27

James was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial.

James Griffin’s Helles Memorial Inscription28

James’ widow, Louisa, remarried on 11 September 1920 at St John the Baptist, Barnsley.29 She and her new husband, coal miner Sidney Cahill, had two children – Hilda born in 1921 and John in 1930. The couple had been neighbours in Wall Street, Barnsley. This was where they remained after their marriage, the 1939 Register recording their address as number 8, Sidney’s pre-marital home.30 However, Mary Louisa Griffin, James’ daughter, is not with the family. She died in 1921, at only seven years old.31

For more on the local impact of the sinking of the Lusitania, including the identification of one of the passengers who has remained a mystery, please see my separate Lusitania post here.

1. St Mary’s Baptism Register;
2. 1891 England & Wales Census, The National Archives (TNA), Reference: RG12/3719/100/8
3. Batley Cemetery Burial Register;
4. 1901 England & Wales Census, TNA, Reference: RG13/4257/81/40;
5. 1911 England & Wales Census, TNA, Reference: RG14/27246;
6. GRO Marriage Index, Herbert Griffin and Ada Wilson, Wakefield, December Quarter 1903, Volume 9c, Page 120;
7. 1911 England & Wales Census, TNA, Reference: RG14/27379;
8. Deceased Online Burial Register Summary;
9. James Griffin Service Records, TNA, Reference: WO363 Burnt Records;
10. Marriage Register Barnsley St Peter’s Parish Church, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP199/1/2/2;
11. James Griffin Service Records, TNA, Reference: WO363 Burnt Records AND WWI Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, Western Front Association, Reference: 085/0387/GRI-GRI;
12. James Griffin Service Records, TNA, Reference: WO363 Burnt Records;
13. Batley News, 11 September 1915;
14. James Griffin Service Records, TNA, Reference: WO363 Burnt Records;
15. Ibid;
16. 6th York and Lancaster Unit War Diary, TNA, Reference WO95/4299;
17. Ibid;
18. Ibid;
19. Ibid;
20. Batley News, 11 September 1915;
21. Priestman, E. Y. With a B.-P. Scout in Gallipoli, a Record of the Belton Bulldogs, by E.Y. Priestman … and a Foreword by Lieut. General Sir Robert Baden-Powell. 2nd Edition. G. Routledge and Sons, 1917;
22. 6th York and Lancaster Unit War Diary, TNA, Reference WO95/4299;
23. Hamilton, sir. Gallipoli Diary, Vols. II, by Sir Ian Hamilton. George H Doran, 1920.
24. 6th York and Lancaster Unit War Diary, TNA, Reference WO95/4299;
25. Priestman, E. Y. With a B.-P. Scout in Gallipoli, a Record of the Belton Bulldogs, by E.Y. Priestman … and a Foreword by Lieut. General Sir Robert Baden-Powell. 2nd Edition. G. Routledge and Sons, 1917;
26. James Griffin Service Records, TNA, Reference: WO363 Burnt Records;
27. Ibid;
28. Photo by Lyn Edmonds;
29. Marriage Register Barnsley St John the Baptist Church, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP199/1/3/1;
30. 1939 Register, TNA, Reference: RG101/3321E/011/23 Letter Code: KAAV;
31. GRO Death Indexes, Mary Louisa Griffin, age 7, Barnsley, June Quarter 1921, Volume 9c, Page 243.

Other Sources (not directly referenced):
• 1939 Register;
• 1871 to 1911 England and Wales Censuses;
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission website;
• GRO Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes;
• Imperial War Museum website;
• The Long, Long Trail website;
• Medal Index Card;
• Medal Award Rolls;
• Soldiers Died in the Great War; and
• Soldiers’ Effects Registers.