Private James Francis GRICE


Regiment/Service:
Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
Unit:
1/6th Battalion
Service Number:
240507
(Formerly: 2297, Sherwood Foresters)
Date of Death:
3 October 1918 - Killed in Action    
Age:
33
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
II. O. 7.

Personal History:
James was born in Hulme, Lancashire in the March quarter 1886, the oldest son of James F. (Joiner) and Frances Grice. In 1901 (Census RG 13/3269) the family were living at 1 Leyland Cottages, Hardwick Square, Buxton. James had a younger sister and brother, Cecily Laura and John Wilfred. He was employed as an "Apprentice Joiner".
Ten years later (1911 Census RG 14/21240) Jams had gained another younger sister, Irene, but he was no longer at home. Frank was the husband of Frances Grice, of 14 Market Street, Buxton.

Military History:
James enlisted in the 6th Battalion, Territorial Force, in Buxton, on 8th September 1914, probably joining "C" Company. His Medal Index Card does not give the date of entry into France, suggesting it was post-1915 as he was not eligible for the 1915 Star Medal. Unfortunately, on a few fragments of his Service Papers have survived the ravages of Second World War bombing, but it is safe to say that he joined the Battalion as a reinforcement, as they originally entered France on 25th February 1915, becoming part of the 139th (Sherwood Forester) Brigade in 46th (North Midland) Division on the 12th May.

The Medal Card of James' Commanding Officer, Lieutenant John Watts Potter, shows him entering France in May 1916, in time for the Battalion's diversionary attack at Gommecourt on the first day of The Battle of the Somme (1st July 1916). It is possible, therefore, that James entered the fray at the same time.

In 1917 the Brigade were in action during Operations on the Ancre (March); Occupation of the Gommecourt defences (4th March); The attack on Rettemoy Graben (12th March); The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line; The attack on Lievin (1st July) and The Battle of Hill 70 (15th -25th August).

The Battalion History reported that on the day James was killed, 3rd October 1918, the 139th Brigade was to attack on a two Battalion frontage, with the 5th Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters, on the right, and the 8th on the left. The 6th Battalion was to form up in the rear of the 5th and 8th, moving in behind and mopping up. On arrival at the Red Line there was to be a twenty minute pause, after which the 6th was to pass through the leading battalions of the Brigade, the 8th Battalion arranging for parties to follow in rear mopping up in the village of Montbrehain. On arrival at the first objective, the 6th and 8th Battalions were to push out observation posts. Tanks were to co-operate and advance with the leading Battalions, accompanying the 6th Battalion in the final advance. Zero Hour was 6.05 a.m., on the 3rd October.

Soon after 1.00 a.m., on the 3rd October the 6th moved forward from east of Bellenglise to its assembly position near Joncourt, and before it lay its objective - the Beaurevoir - Fonsomme Line, beyond it Ramicourt, lying in a hollow between the high ground of the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme Line, and that upon which stood the village of Montbrehain. Of the Battalion Companies "D", "C" and "A" were in front in that order from right to left, and "B" Company was in support.

The C.O.'s report of the day stated: "All Battalions were in position by 5.15 a.m." The direction was well maintained for some distance, then the two leading Battalions seemed to lose direction slightly, passing through the northern and southern outskirts of Ramicourt. The 6th battalion then pushed through the village and mopped up. The advance met with strong opposition from the enemy who had many machine guns on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme Line, and also machine guns in pits immediately in rear of the line. These nearly all fought well, but the majority were killed; some 400 of the enemy were rounded up in Ramicourt. Shortly after crossing the Beaurevoir - Fonsomme Line, Colonel Vann was killed.

Of the death of the Colonel another officer wrote that "Colonel Vann, as ever, taking a leading part in encouraging his men, was now in the foremost line, Private Chatterton, his runner, at his side, keen as ever for the success of the Battalion, he moved from section to section, now forcing the pace, now restraining the too impetuous, and whether by ill change or whether marked down as a leader, a bullet found its mark, clean through his head, and then he fell. So died a man than whom no braver lived, a leader who really led, a fighter who fought to the last ounce, an enthusiast who stirred the very soul of his men; by calling a clergyman, he knew no fear, seven times wounded, four times decorated, the last time only four days before he was killed, with the highest honour known to the British soldier - the Victoria Cross - he now met a soldier's death."

Ramicourt was entered and mopped up, and the French inhabitants rushed from their houses shaking hands with and embracing the men. The three Battalions of the 139th Brigade now again moved forward, the ground from Ramicourt sloping up to the line of railway and beyond that to Montbrehain, the Ramicour to Montbrehain road cutting the railway line at Ramicourt station, from where the sections moving by the road came under machine gun fire.

To continue from the Battalion Diary: "The hedge in the sunken road proved an obstacle and was strongly held by the enemy. Passing through Ramicourt the troops were engaged by heavy machine gun fire from the high ground, and the advance for a time fell back to the sunken road and hedges; but the Red Line was captured at due time, and on arriving here, and finding no trace on the left of the 2nd Australian Division, which had been held up further back, a defensive flank was formed by the 8th Sherwood Foresters along the line of the sunken road with posts pushed forward to the railway cutting.

The 6th Battalion now again moved forward making for its next objective, the Blue Line, our barrage lifting for this purpose. In Montbrehain the enemy offered at first a very stout resistance, especially about the Cemetery; but after several minor and isolated attacks the village was rushed and cleared, though it was found impossible to hold it by reason of heavy machine gun fire from some commanding ground where the enemy was still in great strength. The 5th and 8th Battalions, however, managed to push forward companies into the village and help to mop it up, where upon the German defenders surrendered freely, some thousand prisoners being captured. Nearly the whole of the Blue Line was occupied up to schedule time, but the high ground could not be held owing to the strength of the resistance offered and the open state of the country.

The advanced troops were now re-organised and told off to defensive positions, and parties attempted to push through to the Blue Dotted Line, but rifle, machine gun and field gun fire made this impossible, while the flanks of the 139th Brigade were throughout somewhat insecure.

During the operations one tank at least did very useful work, the remainder being knocked out to the west of Ramicourt, but they seriously affected the German morale.

The enemy counter-attacked at 12.30 p.m., causing our troops to be withdrawn from Montbrehain, which was re-occupied by German troops, but their further advance was stayed by our infantry and machine gun fire."

On the 3rd October 1918 the 139th Brigade killed at least 300 of the enemy and took from 1,400 to 1,500 prisoners. During the fighting the losses of the Battalion amounted to nearly 150 of all ranks killed, wounded and missing; Killed were Lieut. Colonel Bernard William Vann, Captain Frederick Wystan Hipkins, 2nd Lt. Charles Bimrose, 2/Lt. Cyril Ernest Wardle and 25 other ranks; wounded were Lieut. J.N. Wightman, 2nd Lieuts. J.R. Heselden, A. Jepson and 106 non-commissioned officers and men; while eight men were reported missing; then before the Sixth Battalion moved back on the morning of the 4th October to the neighbourhood of Lehautcourt to re-organise, 2nd Lieut. Percy Alexander Tompkinson was also killed.

Congratulatory messages of all kinds now began to flow in, the majority to the 46th Division as a whole, but some addressed specially to the 139th (The Sherwood Foresters) Brigade.

Brigadier General J. Harington, Commanding the 139th Brigade, sent the following message:-
"I wish to express my unbounded admiration for the magnificent fighting qualities shown by the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and men of the Battalions and the Trench Mortar Battery during the recent operations. They have had two operations to carry out - both of them difficult and one at short notice. In each case the Battalions have reached all their objectives, and made almost record captures of prisoners, machine guns and guns.

In the second operation the fighting was very severe and a difficult situation was overcome by the fine leadership of the Regimental Officers and the splendid spirit of the men.

I feel it a very great honour to have been placed in command of a Brigade composed of such fine fighting Battalions as the 5th, 6th, and 8th Battalions The Sherwood Foresters."

The Mayor of Buxton telegraphed Major General Boyd:-
'Two thousand boys and girls from Buxton Schools, Derbyshire, assembled in the Market Place today, saluted the Union Jack in honour of the glorious deeds of the 46th Division. They thank you for all you have done for them, send you their love and prey God to bless you all.'

Along with many of his comrades James is buried in Bellicourt Cemetery, near to where he fell.


Footnote 1:
Major Bernard William Vann, originally from the 8th Battalion. He was awarded
the Victoria Cross for his actions on 29th September 1918 at Bellenglise and
Lehaucourt, France, where he led his battalion across the Canal du Nord through
thick fog and under heavy fire. He secured his troops' advance by rushing up to
the firing line and leading the line forward himself.

"He rushed the field gun with a revolver and riding crop" according to the 1/6th
History, and 'maimed' two German gunners with said riding crop.

He was killed in action, shot by a sniper at Ramicourt, France, on 3rd October 1918.
Before the War Bernard Vann had been a regular member of the Derby County
football team in the First Division.

                              


Footnote 2:
· Two of James' comrades, Pt. 241643 George BENNETT and Pt. 240096 George
   William MYCOCK, both of the 1/6th Battalion, were also killed in action on the 3rd
  October 1918 and are buried with him at Bellicourt.

Sources:
· "Men of the High Peak: A History of the 1/6th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters 1914-18" -
    Capt. W D Jamieson (ISBN-10: 0952964864) Miliquest  Publications (1 Oct 2004)
· I am grateful to "British War Graves" for the photo of James' grave
· Derbyshire Territorials in the Great War

Commemorated on:
Link to CWGC Record
Pt George Benett's Grave
Col B W Vann VC, MC & Bar
Col Vann's Grave at Bellicourt
poppy
.... about Major Vann
James Grice was originally buried in the next but one Grave from that of Major Vann - on the left in the photo above.

The Grave in the middle is that of
Capt. Frederick Wystan HIPKINS, M.C.