First World War Project
James Frederick LAKER (of Teynham)
b. 14th January 1892
Private, Service Number T/270237
James was one of six children raised by domestic gardener William and Sarah Laker, latterly of 1, Station Row, Teynham. Both parents came originally from Sussex (Henfield and Angmering respectively), they made their married lives at first in Shoreham, then Upchurch and finally in Teynham. They raised six children, mostly born in Upchurch. James had two older siblings William Henry (who also served in WW1) and Daisy Gertrude; his three younger siblings were Arthur, Florence and Elsie. James was born in Upchurch on 14th January 1892 and baptised exactly one month later.
First enlisted at the outbreak of the war into the newly formed local Yeomanry - "B" Squadron (Faversham). The 1/1st Battalion Royal East Kent Yeomanry (The Duke of Connaught's Own) (Mounted Rifles) entered the Balkan Theatre on 24th September 1915. James survived long service in three theatres [Balkan, Egyptian, and B.E.F. France and Flanders]. At the time of his death he was serving at the Front during the start of the Allied 100-days Offensive that brought the war to its end. James suffered the effects of gas and died in No.7 Stationary Hospital at Boulogne. The exact date is not clear but probably during September or very early in October 1918.
|The South Eastern Gazette of 3rd October 1914|
|ROYAL EAST KENT MOUNTED RIFLES. THE NEW RESERVE REGIMENT. About three weeks ago the authorities decided to form a Reserve Regiment of the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles. The old regiment, having been embodied at the outbreak of the European War, is now rapidly becoming fit to undertake foreign service, for which it will no doubt be detailed. Mr. Alured Faunce de Laune, of Sharsted, Sittingbourne, made himself responsible for raising a squadron of the Reserve Regiment, and at once commenced active recruiting. On September 19th, 41 recruits joined the new regiment, and on the following Monday Mr. De Laune himself was commissioned and appointed to a command in the regiment. Since then the recruiting has been in the hands of the Hon. Secretary of the Local Recruiting Sub-Committee, and on Monday last 39 more young men presented themselves for examination at the Drill Hall, Sittingbourne, when an officer of the regiment was present. Of these 39 no less than 33 were accepted after the medical examination, and two others joined other branches of the service. Only four failed to pass the medical tests. Most of these young men joined the regiment at Strode Park, Herne, the same evening.
Below will be found the names of those who have already joined the regiment from this district:
Bapchild:- A.T. Gammon, C.C. Neeves, G.A. Wiles, and C.N. Yates.
Bobbing, Borden, and Key Street:- B. Dutnall, A E Hollis, H. Luckhurst, G.T. Payne, A.E. Pearson, and H.M. Tyman.
Greenstreet, Lynsted, and Teynham:- C. Barton, S.G. Clarke, H.S. Clarke, S. Cleaver, T. Holden, J.F. Laker, T.A. Ottaway, J. Ray, H.J. Read, G.L. Sattin, and H. Wildish.
Lower Halstow – Jack Beswick
Newington: S. Clout.
Sittingbourne: E. Back, A. Bolton, E. Bourne, LF Bowes, W. Burley, A. Castle, J. Chapel, H. Ealden,, W.L. Foord, HH Martin, D.R. Mears, B. Mills, H. Mills, W. Moore, C. Mountain, J. Pittock, F. Rose, H. Shipp, H. Stedman, and H. Williams.
Recruiting is still proceeding and suitable young men are asked to give in their names to Mr.F.J. Parrett at 17 High street, Sittingbourne, and arrangements will be made for their enlistment providing they pass the medical examination. Already several names have been put down to form the third batch."
His death was reported locally:
|Faversham and North East Kent News of 2nd November 1918|
|TEYNHAM MEN. The deaths of two more Teynham men are also reported, viz., Private James Frederick Laker, The Buffs (died of wounds October 22nd), and Private Sidney Philpot, Leicesters (killed in action September 24th).|
|East Kent Gazette of 18th November 1918|
|PRIVATE J.F. LAKER, R.E.K.M.R., TEYNHAM. Private James Frederick Laker, R.E.K.M.R., attached Buffs, was gassed and wounded on October 12th, and died in hospital at Boulogne on October 22nd. He was 26 years of age, and was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Laker, of Station Row, Teynham. Joining up in the early days of the war, he saw active service at the Dardanelles, and afterwards in Palestine, where he was present at the capture of Jerusalem. In the early part of the present year he was drafted to France. Before he joined up he had for some years been in the employ of Colonel Honeyball, to whom his father has been gardener for 23 years. He was a bell ringer at Teynham Church and also a member of the choir. This is the second son Mr. and Mrs. Laker have given in the service of their country. Their eldest son, William Henry Laker, The Buffs, was reported missing in May, 1916, and a year later was presumed to have been killed. He was 30 years of age. Since the beginning of 1915 the parents have also lost two daughters. In a period of three-and-a-half years therefore they have suffered the loss of four of their children.|
James' father, William, paid for the additional inscription to his headstone - "UNTIL THE DAY BREAKS AND SHADOWS FLEE AWAY."
He was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. [See Appendix 1]
James began his military story in the 1/1st East Kent Yeomanry - Royal East Kent Yeomanry (The Duke of Connaught's Own) (Mounted Rifles), which had its Regimental H.Q. at Canterbury. "B" Squadron was recruiting at Faversham.
This Yeomanry unit came under the command of the South Eastern Mounted Brigade. However, on 24 September 1915, they were dismounted and the battalion (part of a Composite Battalion) sailed from Liverpool to Gallipoli, landing on 8 October 1915 and coming under orders of 42nd (East Lancashire) Division.
In January 1916, the Battalion withdrew from Gallipoli and moved to Mudros. Thereafter, in February, they moved to Egypt where the Brigade was absorbed into 3rd Dismounted Brigade.
A year later, on 1st February 1917, the East Kent Yeomanry was absorbed into the formation of the 10th Battalion, the Buffs, at Sollum and came under orders of 230th Brigade in 74th (Yeomanry) Division. During the following period, this Battalion served in the Middle East until, on 1st May 1918 the Battalion embarked at Alexandria onto the H.M.T. MALWA bound for Marseilles, arriving in France on 7th May 1918.
Now coming under the command of the 74th (Yeomanry) Division and 230th Infantry Brigade. The Battalion was initially placed on G.H.Q. Reserve as it sought to rebuild its numbers, facing a steady trickle of men being sent into and out of hospitals. Training and re-equipping took place as new drafts built the Battalion up.
On 11th July 1918, the circumstances changed as "Battalion moved into Brigade Reserve, to the Front Line, and proceeded to LA PIERRIERE, relieving the 2/6 Royal Warwickshire Regiment and went into Billets.
On 1st August, "Battalion training at LA MIQUELLERIE. Battalion formed part of Brigade Support. MAJOR W.O. LITTLTE dismissed from His Majesty's Service by G.C.M. and was struck off strength."
It wasn't until 4th August 1918 that the Battalion moved into the Front. "Battalion left LA MIQUELLERIE and took over right subsection left Sector (ST. FLORIS) from 10th R.S.L.I. "C" and "B" Companies in the Front Line and Support "A" in Reserve, and "D" in AMUSOIRES-HAVERSKERQUE LINE."
Their first action took place on 5th August, when they were required to keep connection with troops to the right (16th Devons), which had moved more or less unopposed into German trenches. However, only "B" Company was able to make similar forward progress as the remainder of the 10th Battalion met considerable opposition.
For the 10th Battalion, the opening of the 100-Day Offensive on 8th October is described in the War Diary:
"D" and "A" Companies passed through "B" and "C" Companies an pushed on to K.33.Central to Q.3.Central through LA HENNERIE to Q.3.d.Central, but at 2 p.m. "A" Company were counter-attacked on their right flank which drew back so as to join up with 229th Brigade who were stationary at Q.9.a.8.7. at 7 p.m.
"D" and "A" Companies pushed on to the West bank of the River LYS again, but were unable to cross owing to all the Bridges being blown up. 11 O.R. to Hospital struck off strength.
9th August: The R.E. brought up 3 bridges which were utilised to cross the River LYS at Q.3.d.7.7., Q.3.d.5.8., and Q.3.b.2.3, and dug in about 50 yards on East side. 29 O.R. joined as a draft and were taken on strength. Casualties 6 O.R. killed, Lt. R.H. ATKINSON and 13 O.R. wounded."
Forward progress was only by degrees to begin with, in and out of Trenches, facing counter-attacks including gas shells. Billets in ST. FLORIS and LA PIERRIERE.
On 28th/29th August, the Battalion entrained at LILLERS to disembark at HEILLY to the South, where they went into dugouts. Here they joined the centre of the push against German forces in Northern France and Belgium.
Summary of September Operations found in the War Diary: "The month of September 1918 proved to be the hardest experienced by the battalion since it was formed. With an interval from the 14th to the 17th, the severest active service conditions were experienced from the 2nd to the 24th. Starting along the CANAL DU NORD between MOISLAINS - HAUT ALLAINES, the battalion was in the line, or the forefront of the battle most of the way till RIFLE PIT TRENCH - ZOGDA TRENCH, N.E. of HARGICOURT were reached, and in the further advance N.E. of this. The enemy defences till this last advance was not very severe, for instance, five machine guns, admirably placed at PIPLE POST, F.28.c, had not fired 200 rounds and only one of the 5 guns was withdrawn, our barrage however, in this sector along the RONSSOY - HARGICOURT Road had done admirable work.
In a further attempt to advance from ZOGDA TRENCH, F.30.a, to GLENNEMONT FARM on the 21st, severe opposition was met with from M.G. and an intense artillery fire and the remnants of the battalion were compelled to withdraw to their original starting line, ZOGDA TRENCH. At the end of the month the battalion was taken out of the line and entrained to LILLERS, marching from there into billets at AUBIGNY, where refitting and re-organising immediately commenced."
Circumstances of the death of James Frederick Laker
James Died of Wounds (Gas) in 7th Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, on 22nd October. James received his mortal wounds during 12th October 1918.
The War Diary for that day reveals: "Commanding Officer inspected Battalion in morning also Corps Battle Line. Battalions digging on same tonight. Lieut. E.S. WILLIAMS, 2nd Lieut. F. MOYSEY and S/R.S.M. R.H. HARDIMAN joined for duty and were taken on strength. 2 Other Ranks to Hospital, struck off strength. 6 Other Ranks from Hospital taken on strength." This short reference belies the severity of James' exposure to gas.
The German's in retreat were frequently mixing High Explosive and Gas shells. The War Diary reveals several dates when the threat of gas was marked and would have been an ever-present threat to James.
The context for October is summarised officially in the War Diary: "SUMMARY OF OPERATIONS. The Battalion, since leaving ALLOUANGNE has been moving forward at a great rate to keep in touch with the rapid retirement of the enemy. The operations during the month have not been severe, and any resistance the enemy showed, was short lived, with the exception of a spell near BASSE RUE, when, owing to the Division on our right being held up. We were unable for a short time to continue our advance. The opposition all through the month has taken the form of machine gun nests. Casualties were light. Unfortunately two officers were killed. Towards the end of the month when the enemy began to slow down his retirement and eventually came to a standstill in front of TOURNAI. Some useful patrol work was carried out, and much information gleaned respecting enemy defences and his methods. Amongst other obstacles left by him to hinder our advance were mined roads and railway bridges blown up. The enemy's further retirement at the end of this month, seems to be indefinitely postponed; he is holding steadily within a few hundred yards of our front line, with several Machine Guns which are active both by day and night. On the 28th the Battalion was relieved in the line by the 15th Suffolks and the 16th SUSSEX, and went into Brigade Reserve, on the 30th the Brigade was relieved by the 231rd Brigade and on relief proceeded into Divisional Reserve, when training, refitting and reorganising immediately commenced and recreation in the form of football, etc. started."
Colonel R.S.H. Moody's "Historical Records of The Buffs" summarises the experience for the 10th Battalion during October 1918. On the face of it, this account down plays gas shelling during October, but gas was used throughout this and earlier months.
"On the 1st October the Buffs relieved the 9th Royal Welch Fusiliers in the Richebourg sector, advancing to the front line just west of Lillers next day. This was the commencement of a slow but certain push eastward on the part of the 74th Division, and indeed of the army to which it belonged. There were many delays. The roads and bridges were destroyed by the retreating foe, and a delay caused to one unit on account of either these reasons or by a hostile rear guard meant a check to the whole movement, for the German resistance was not so wholly broken down as to render it wise or safe for the pursuers to break their line by pushing one body of troops in front of another. Sainghin was reached on the 3rd October and there ensued a halt for some days, chiefly because the 55th Division on the right was stayed by the La Bassee Canal. The enemy refused to allow this halt to be a quiet one, and the troops were shelled pertinaciously and thoroughly. The Buffs took their turn in front line and in support and, when in the former, sent out many patrols; in fact, patrolling at this time was kept up both by day and by night, as it was of utmost importance to keep in touch with the enemy. These parties were able to discover some of the hostile machine-gun nests, and on the 9th of the month our artillery was able to deal with several of these which had been located.
On the 15th the forward move was resumed and the patrols pushed through Rosoir. On the 17th, the Suffolks leading and the Buffs following, Emmerin was reached at 12.10, and the Buffs following, Emmerin was reached at 12.10, and the Buffs, passing through, pushed onward in the afternoon towards the road east of Faches, for the division was to pass to the southward of the great town of Lille. Owing to the darkness, progress after leaving the Suffolk was slow and the road was not reached till 6.30 a.m., after which posts were established slightly to the east of the roadway. This country had been for four years in the possession of the Germans, and it is impossible to describe the joy manifested by the French inhabitants at their release at last from their horrible servitude. The Buffs never experienced, nor are they likely to again, such exuberant tokens of welcome and gratitude as they met with in the neighbourhood of Lille. The Frenchman feels very deeply indeed, and he is a demonstrative man. The march continued, every day adding a few miles to the completed journey, and on the 24th the Buffs were at Marquin, only three miles west of the city of Tournai. Here it became pretty evident that the enemy intended making a stand. The shelling, both gas and high explosive, become very severe; night patrols met with heavy machine-gun fire and in every detail resistance was stiffening."
Family of James Frederick Laker
Additional Documents - Colonel Moody's "Historical Records of The Buffs" - gas noted
The greater losses to the 10th Battalion were experienced during September with gas shelling accounting for many men injured and sent to Field Ambulances and onwards to Hospital. September saw casualties of 11 Officers and 218 other ranks were killed, wounded or missing. The War Diary and the narrative in Colonel R.S.H. Moody's "Historical Records of The Buffs" make reference to German artillery being composed of High Explosive and Gas as part of their defences. There are multiple references to gas and to soldiers being moved to Hospitals. Several were gas shell injuries.
"2nd September: Battalion moved to position of assembly 5.20 a.m. to B.30.b and at 8.45 a.m. moved to C.27.a. "C" Company took over portion of front line from C.28.s.0.4. to C.27.b.9.7. Battalion area heavily shelled all day with H.E. and gas. 2 O.R. killed, Captain E.P. Vickery, R.A.M.C. and 12 Other Ranks wounded, 6 O.R. wounded shell gas, 10 O.R. to Field Ambulance, struck off strength."
"3rd September: "C" and "B" Companies moved to line C.16.c.7.4 to C.22.c.4.0. "A" Company in support in DELVA TRENCH. Battalion H.Q. and "D" Company in Reserve in C.27.a.6.8.
2nd Lieut W.E. Onions wounded shell gas. Captain W.C. Lamarque invalided to England and struck off strength. 12 O.R. to Hospital struck off strength."
"21st September: Map 62b N.W.: At 5.40 a.m. "D" and "C" Companies in the Front Line and "A" Company in Support, formed up on road running N.W. and S.E. in F.30.c. and advanced under a barrage to take the BLUE LINE from A.20.c.8.2. to A.20.c.4.8. The wire West of ZOO Trench was reached, and one of the two belts penetrated, but a tremendous Machine Gun fire was met here, and no further advance could be made. A withdrawal was necessitated by the battalions on the Left coming back. The front companies did not return to the Battalion till the morning of the 22nd with the exception of a few men, and the original RED LINE was held by "B" Company and the remnant of "A" Company. The Battalion was relieved in the evening by the 15th SUFFOLKS, and took up a position in SHERWOOD Trench in the neighbourhood of F.28.c.5.0.
Captain C.E. Hatfield, and 2nd Lieut H.A. Oxley and 12 O.R. Killed in action; Lieut S.B. Turnpenny and 2nd Lieut N.E. Hoare wounded to Hospital; 58 O.R. wounded to Hospital; 1 O.R. died of wounds. Lieut R.D. Wilkinson, wounded and missing, 6 O.R. wounded and missing, 20 O.R. missing, 5 O.R. sick to Field Ambulance struck off strength. 8 O.R. from Hospital taken on strength."
"9th October: Box barrage (H.E. and Gas) put down on our left post at 06.00-0630. Enemy raid on right post of K.S.L.I. at same time succeeded in taking whole garrison of 24 men. "B" Company shelled out of some posts. Several gas casualties. 5 O.R. wounded to Hospital, struck off strength. 14 O.R. admitted to hospital gassed, struck off strength."