James Rush

Name: James Rush
2nd Battalion, The Leicestershire Regiment
Service Number
: 19458
Date of Death:
6 April 1916
Memorial: Basra Memorial, Iraq

James Rush

James Rush had links to several of the families in St Mary’s parish through his father John. Full details of these can be found in the biography of James’ uncle Michael Rush, who served in – and survived – the Great War. But briefly, the siblings of John included Mary (who married John Connolly); Catherine (wife of James Collins), Michael, Martin, Bridget (wife of Thomas Stenchion) and Anne (who married Abraham Hey). St Mary’s War Memorial men James Collins and John Thomas Connolly were therefore cousins of James Rush. Another cousin, John Collins, also died in the war, but does not feature on the St Mary’s War Memorial. A further cousin, Catherine Connolly, was the wife of Reginald Roberts who, although not on the church War Memorial, also died serving his country in the war.

Looking then in more detail at James’ family history. His father, John, was the son of Irish parents, who came to Dewsbury in the early 1860s. This is the town in which John was born in June 1865. It appears this initial relocation did not work out, for they returned to Ireland shortly after John’s birth. When he was in his mid-teens the Rush family once more tried their luck in England and this time settled, with 16-year-old John starting work as a coal miner (hewer) at Messrs. Crawshaw and Warburton’s Shaw Cross Collieries. He spent most of his working life down the pit, with his final seven years of employment being as a night machine minder at Messrs. G. and J. Stubley’s Bottoms Mill in Batley.

On 19 May 1888 John married 20-year-old Batley-born Hannah (Annie) Elizabeth Pearson at St Mary’s church. Their early years as a married couple were spent at Churchfield Terrace, Batley and subsequently in the Churchfield Street/Fleming Square/Fleming’s Buildings area.

Daughter Mary Elizabeth was born in August 1890 – the first of their eleven children. She was followed by another daughter, Annie, in December 1892. James, the Rush’s eldest son, was born on 8 October 1894. Six more girls followed – Kate/Kathleen in May 1896; Ellen in September 1898, but who died in June 1900, aged 20 months; Maggie in April 1900, and who died the following April, within days of the census; Sarah Jane in February 1902, Theresa in March 1904; Winnie in 1906. Their final two children were boys – John in August 1909, and William in May 1911. By the time of this census the family had moved to Peel Street. This large family meant that Annie, after initially working in the woollen industry in the 1891 census, is recorded as either having no employment or being at home, in the subsequent two censuses.

Map showing the areas where the Rush family lived, including the Churchfield Street/Fleming Square areas, Peel Street and Cobden Street – Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.11 (Batley; Morley), Revised: 1915, Published: 1922 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

James attended St Mary’s school. He was one of those St Mary’s pupils who controversially participated in the Batley schools pageant to celebrate the raising of funds to build the Batley hospital extension. James, along with several other St Mary’s schoolboys – including good friend Thomas Dolan – played the part of fishermen, dressed in dark blue smocks and a red cape with tassels, carrying fishing nets. Of the 14 St Mary’s fishermen, five, including James and Thomas, were to die in the First World War. Another died in World War Two.

By 1911 James had finished school and worked in the coal mine. This census states his employment was as a hewer, but 16 seems unusually young for this type of work. Newspaper reports following his death state he worked in a more age-appropriate role, as a hurrier at Howley Park Colliery, the pit at which his father now also worked. This job involved conveying the empty coal corves/small wagon-like containers to the hewer at the coal face, sometimes helping him fill them, and then transporting the full tubs ready to go to the surface. It was a job from which a boy would eventually progress from to become a hewer.

James also at one time was involved in theatre stage lighting, working as a limelight operator at Batley Hippodrome, the theatre in which mystery man William Frederick Townsend would later work. It would be an exciting job for a young lad, with the opportunity to see the latest theatrical productions and possibly rub shoulders with the stars of the stage. However, pay was poor – as little as 5s a week for a young worker in 1913.1 This explains why James did not make it his full-time job, opting for better paid coal mining employment.

Batley Hippodrome – Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.11 (Batley; Morley), Revised: 1915, Published: 1922 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

As for the theatre he worked the spotlights in, Batley Hippodrome has long since gone. It stood on the corner of St James Street in Batley, starting life as the Theatre Royal. After its Hippodrome days it subsequently became the Empire Cinema. I have attached a brief history of the building as follows:

Located in Batley, West Yorkshire. The Theatre Royal opened on 2nd November 1896. It was designed by architect William Smelt and had 3,000 seats in pit, stalls, dress circle and boxes, and was built for Fred Cooke. Alterations were carried out around 1907 to the plans of architect A.J. Whitty. In February 1912 it was re-named Batley Hippodrome Theatre.

In 1921 the building was gutted back to the bare walls and the façade was rebuilt. This was done to the plans of architectural firm Hanstock & Sons who created a modern cinema with 712 seats in the stalls and 268 seats in the circle. It re-opened as the Empire Super Cinema on 2nd January 1922. There was still a stage, and the proscenium was 22 feet wide. The Empire Cinema was the first in town to be equipped to show ‘talkies’, when a Western Electric (WE) sound system was installed and on the 20th October 1929 “Showboat” was the first sound film to be screened.

The Empire Cinema was equipped with CinemaScope in 1954/1955, with a new wide screen was installed forward from the original proscenium. It was closed on 26th August 1961 with Richard Todd in “Don’t Bother to Knock”.2

Perhaps his theatre job contributed to the reason for him being well-known in town. However, his occupation on enlistment in August 1915 was a miner.

He joined up at the same time as his lifelong friend Thomas Dolan, one of his fellow fisherman in the Batley schools pageant, only eight years earlier.

The pair initially signed on with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), with James’ service number being 25293. Although his service records do not survive, it is likely the friends were with the 3rd KOYLI. However, the pair were subsequently transferred to the Leicestershire Regiment. This transfer likely took place in late December/early January 1916, and shortly afterwards they set sail for the Middle East. Here, Private Rush served with the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, who had arrived in Mesopotamia the previous month.3 This Battalion were part of the 28th Indian Infantry Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Division of the Indian Army. He received a new service number, 19458.

Map of Lower Mesopotamia showing areas where James Rush served – taken from ‘The Long Road to Baghdad’ by Edmund Candler – out of copyright

The 2nd Leicestershire’s were in urgent need of reinforcements. They incurred heavy casualties in action against Ottoman forces, and in particular from the appalling conditions the wounded subsequently suffered, during the first attempt in early January 1916 to relieve besieged British troops in the garrison town of Kut.

After James’ departure from England his parents received only one field post-card and one letter from him. His letter, written on 10 March 1916, gives some clue as to the lack of correspondence. In it he said:

Just a few lines hoping to find you all well, as this leaves me in the pink. You will think I have forgotten you all, but I have not, it is too hard. It is difficult to get paper over here, in fact we cannot get any at all, so the next time you write kindly send me some. I have been in action and I am all right so don’t trouble about me.4

James’ 10 March 1916 letter was written after yet another advance in the attempt to relieve the beleaguered British troops trapped at Kut from Turkish forces. On 7 March the Battalion formed up just south of the Dujaila Redoubt. By the time they were withdrawn, crossing the Tigris Bridge and reaching camp at 1.30 a.m. on the 10 March, the Battalion had, to quote their official history:

… “dug in” on three occasions and marched 48 miles in 53 hours; it had also incurred the following casualties: killed, 13 non-commissioned officers and men; wounded, 4 officers…and 136 other ranks, while 14 men were missing.5

The troops were exhausted. Back in the relative safety of camp, James’ thoughts clearly turned to home, his family, and reassuring them all was fine. But by the time the letter made it to Batley things had changed. By the time the letter reached home, James was already dead.

He was killed on 6 April 1916, in yet more actions to affect an end to the siege of Kut by Turkish troops. After spending a quiet few March weeks following the failed Dujaila Redoubt escapade, at around 9 p.m. on 4 April the Battalion once more marched out of camp to front-line trenches towards the Umm-El-Hannah position

Map showing locations of actions for the relief of Kut – Source unknown, reproduced on Lightbobs website, http://www.lightbobs.com/1916-attempt-to-relieve-kut.html

The Unit War Diary describes the events which followed:

5th and 6th April. Heavy bombardment of the enemy’s position from both banks of the TIGRIS was carried out, and the first line trenches were captured at 5 A.M. by the 13th Division, the capture of other lines following. About 50 wounded and unfounded prisoners were taken. Enemy retired to FALAHIYEH position, about 2 miles in the rear. This was attacked and carried at about 7.30 P.M. by the 13th Division. Enemy now retired to SANNAYIAT position. The 19th and 29th Brigades supported by the 21st Brigade were ordered to carry out a night march with the intention of attacking at dawn. The march was commenced shortly after midnight [on the 6th], in massed formation, 28th B[riga]de on the right, the 19th Brigade on the left.

Formation of 28th Brigade – Front line, 51st SIKHS (F.F.) and Provisional Batt[alio]n Oxford and Bucks L.I.; second line, 2nd Leicestershire Reg[imen]t. Third line – 53rd SIKHS (F.F.) and 56 Rifles (F.F.). Owing to considerable delay during the march [due to the road being congested by bodies of the 13th Division marching back or bivouacked across the line of advance, and loss of time caused in the passage of the trenches] the attacking Brigades were 1,000 y[ar]ds short of the enemy’s position at daylight. Suddenly the enemy opened a withering fire. The first two lines of the Brigade pushed forward to within 800 y[ar]ds, until compelled to halt through very heavy casualties (our own artillery on right bank of the TIGRIS being responsible for a considerable number), when they entrenched. Some 400 y[ar]ds behind these another line was established and consolidated by some 200 men of Leicestershire Reg[imen]t and Highland Battalion (1st Seaforths and Black Watch of 19th Brigade), the remaining units of both Brigades entrenching in rear. Heavy fire was kept up by the enemy throughout the day. At dusk the wounded and a few others of the Battalion and other units crawled back and organised stretcher parties were sent out….Other ranks during the 6th killed 45 – wounded 254 – wounded but did not quit back 3 – missing 19.6

Edmund Candler, a British journalist and official “eye-witness” in Mesopotamia, in his post-war book The Long Road to Baghdad details what he saw on 6 April:

At 5.30, when they were within 800 yards of the Turkish line, it had become light. The Turks could see them plainly, though their own trenches were hidden. They held their fire until the brigade was within 700 yards, and then poured in one solid sheet of lead…

The gallant, broken, and patched-up battalions of the 7th Division, the remnants of Sheikh Saad, the Wadi, and El Hannah, were called upon once more to illustrate the impossible, to advance in broad daylight in an entrenched position without gun preparation over a perfectly open plain. Even their machine guns were wanting. One had fondly hoped that their thin ranks would not be thinned again. But the Sinn garrison had come out and held Sannaiyat in force, the rising marsh gave them a stronger natural position than the one they had prepared behind. It would have been better if the attack had been postponed till dark, or if a halt had been made until the guns could be brought up. But the General Commanding acted strictly upon orders, and the brigade was committed to the advance at all costs. The Turks ought to have been on the run, in which case it would have been criminal not to press the advantage home. Eleven hundred in the 28th Brigade alone fell in the first few minutes, and 700 in the 19th Brigade on the left. When they came under the enemy’s fire, part of the line had not even deployed. The Oxfords lost 13 officers, the Leicesters 11, the 51st Sikhs 8, the Highland Battalion (Black Watch and Seaforths) 11. It was a torrent of death. The 51st Sikhs and Oxfords and Bucks Light Infantry were leading, the Leicesters in the second line, and the 53rd Sikhs and 58th Rifles behind them. A Staff officer handed me his glasses.

“Do you see that line of khaki,” he asked, “about five hundred yards from the enemy?”

“Yes. Why haven’t they dug themselves in?”

He explained that they were our dead.

The dead were happy. It was the thought of the wounded that saddened me. Many of them would be hit again, and many killed, before night fell and they could be brought in; and those days of battle which begin with a night march drag themselves out in interminably long hours even for a sound man. On the marsh side the gale had brought the flood up to the field where the wounded lay….7

Looking at casualties, CWGC records show that a total of 56 officers/other ranks of the 2nd Leicestershire Regiment died on that day.8 Of these only four have known graves. The remainder, including James, are commemorated on the Basra Memorial.

Aerial view of the Basra Memorial in its original location (on the right of the photo) – copyright status unknown

Until 1997 the Basra Memorial was located on the main quay of the naval dockyard at Maqil, on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, about eight kilometres north of Basra. Because of the sensitivity of the site, the Memorial was moved by presidential decree during Saddam Hussein’s rule. The move involved a considerable amount of manpower, transport costs and sheer engineering on their part, and the Memorial has been re-erected in its entirety. The Basra Memorial is now located 32 kilometres along the road to Nasiriyah, in the middle of what was a major battleground during the first Gulf War.9

James’ parents received the first news of his death on Friday 12 May 1916. This was officially confirmed by the War Office the following day.

James was awarded the Victory Medal and British War Medal.  In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial. 

The attempted relief of Kut, the campaign in which James lost his life, was ultimately unsuccessful. The Kut garrison surrendered on the 29 April 1916, a huge blow to the British and a morale-booster for the Turkish Army.

As mentioned at the start of this piece this was not the only loss for the family. James’ cousins, John Thomas Connolly, John and James Collins, died whilst serving with the Army during the war. Reginald Roberts, the husband of another cousin, Catherine Connolly, was killed in 1914.

From 1916 onwards James’ mother was awarded a pension for the loss of her son. She died in September 1944 after a long illness, a little over three years following the death of her husband, John.

1. Daily Citizen (Manchester), 15 December 1913;
2. Cinema Treasures website, contribution by Ken Roe, http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/51602;
3. Mesopotamia occupies the area of present-day Iraq, and parts of Iran, Kuwait, Syria and Turkey;
4. Batley Reporter and Guardian of 19 May 1916;
5. Wylly, Harold Carmichael. History of the 1st & 2nd Battalions the Leicestershire Regiment in the Great War ; Wylly, Harold Carmichael. Gale & Polden, 1928;
6. 2nd Leicestershire Regiment Unit War Diary, The National Archives (TNA), Reference WO 95/5140/3;
7. Candler, Edmund. The Long Road to Baghdad. Vol. 1. London: Cassel, 1919;
8. Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. This number includes 2nd Lt Billings who is attributed to the 2nd Leicestershires in their War Diary but who the CWGC show with the 9th attached to the 6th.
9. Basra Memorial, Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, https://www.cwgc.org/visit-us/find-cemeteries-memorials/cemetery-details/88400/basra-memorial/

Other Sources:
• 1891-1911 England & Wales Censuses;
Batley Cemetery Records;
The Long, Long Trail websitehttps://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/;
GRO Indexes and certificates – Births, Marriages and Deaths;
KOYLI and 2nd Leicestershire Service Records;
• Lightbobs website, http://www.lightbobs.com/;
Medal Award Rolls, TNA WO329; Ref: 936;
Medal Index Card;
• National Library of Scotland website, https://maps.nls.uk/;
• Parish Regsiters (various);
• Newspapers as directly referenced in piece, but also the Batley Reporter and Guardian, 19 April 1901, 14 August 1915 and 9 February 1917; Batley News, 26 May 1888, 16 June 1900, 30 August 1907, 20 May 1916, 26 April 1941 and 16 September 1944;
• Soldiers’ Effects Register, 1901-60; NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 293501-295000; Reference: 148;
Soldiers Died in the Great War;
• Western Front Association Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, 176/0897/STU-STY
, 164/0808/RUG-RUS and 061/0376/RUN-RUT;