Private James Birdsall. 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. Service number 10541. Later 4601783.
James was born on 24th February 1894, the youngest of William and Isabella Birdsall’s four children. His birth was registered at Keighley in the first quarter of that year.
In 1901 he was six years old and living at 29, Woodhouse Road, Keighley with his 44 year old widowed mother, elder sisters Isabella and Sarah and his elder brother James. Their father William had died.
By 1911 they had moved to 8, Utley Street in Keighley, James was now 17 and still living at home with his mother and sister Sarah. He was working as a general labourer for a loom manufacturer.
James must already have been serving in the Army or a reservist as he was on active service almost immediately on the outbreak of war. He entered France on 10th August 1914 with the British Expeditionary Force, serving with the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment.
Between August 5th and November 22nd 1914, James is on active service with the second battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. He may have enlisted in April 1913, given that records show his date of discharge as April 9th 1925 and assuming he'd signed up for twelve years service (normally seven years in the Army and five in the reserves).
Having been stationed in Dublin the second battalion saw action at Le Cateau and strongly resisted German attacks as they headed towards the Marne in the retreat from Mons. By November 11th 1914 the Duke of Wellingtons were facing the Prussian Guards as they defended the Belgian city of Ieper/Ypres.
On July 22nd 1922 at the age of 26, James a machine moulder married 29 year old widow Lillian Knowles in Keighley. (Presumably James is now in the the Army Reserve.)
James applied to join the Keighley Old Contemptibles' Association and was accepted for membership on February 18th 1939. His OCA badge number was 647D.
He may be on their group photograph and we'd very much appreciate it if anyone can identify him please. Go to this page for a look:
Keighley's Old Contempibles' Association page
The 1939 Register shows James was employed as a machine moulder which means he was probably making sand moulds at a local foundry casting metal parts for textile machinery. Keighley had a substantial foundry industry at this time. Lillian was a spinning drawer and would probably be working at one of the local spinning mills.
James passed away in 1960 and his death is recorded at Wharfedale in the first quarter of the year, which suggests he was not resident in the Keighley area at the time of his death.
His service in the Great War is recognised by the award of the British War Medal and Victory Medal and the 1914 Bronze Star with clasp and rose, showing he was an 'Old Contemptible.'
Researched by Steven Jolly.
Birth, marriage and death records.
1901 and 1911 census.
WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920.
Keighley News archives, Keighley Library.
Wartime Memories Project.
History of the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment During the First Three Years of the Great War (1917) by J.J. Fisher
Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment - 2nd Battalion war diaries, from the National Archives: