Private James J. PEARSON


Regiment/Service:
Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
Unit:
1st Battalion
Service Number:
3913
Date of Death:
12 March 1915 - Killed in Action
Age:
21
Cemetery / Memorial:
Memorial Reference:
Panel 26/27


Personal History:

According to his Service Papers James was born on the 3rd August 1893. He was the son of Alfred (Signalman) and Lois (née Kirk) Pearson. In 1901 (Census RG 12/3269) they were living at 7 Nall Cottages, Fairfield.

James had four brothers, Alfred and Joe (older), Harry and Jack (younger), and two older sisters, Mary Elizabeth and Edith In the March quarter 1902 James' mother, Lois, died and in the March quarter 1905 Alfred remarried Agnes Mary Cantrell.

In 1911 (Census RG 13/21235) the family were living at 262 Nunsfield Road, Fairfield, Buxton, and James (Jim) was working as a "Domestic Gardner". Later James' father moved again to 28 West Road, Buxton.
At the time of his enlistment James gave his occupation as "General Labourer". He was 5 ft. 3¾ ins (1.62 m) tall, had brown eyes and brown hair, and gave his religion as "C. of E.".

Military History:
James enlisted in the Notts and Derbyshire Regiment (Special Reserve) at Nottingham on the 13th August 1914 for a period of 6 years. He was initially posted to the 3rd Battalion, formed in August 1914 in Derby as a depot/training unit. They moved to Plymouth later in the month.

The 1st Battalion had been in Bombay at the outbreak of War, landing back in Plymouth on the 2nd October 1914. On the 5 November 1914 the Battalion landed at Le Havre and was attached to the 24th Brigade in the 8th Division. James was posted to the 1st Battalion on the 9th February 1915, although his Medal Index Card gives the date of his entry into France as the 9th December 1914.

On the 10th March The Battle of Neuve Chapelle began, which was to last until the 22nd April 1915 and was the first large scale organised attack undertaken by the British army during the war. One Officer wrote: "At 7.30 a.m. the artillery bombardment commenced, and never since history has there been such a one. You couldn't hear yourself speak for the noise. It was a continual rattle and roar. We lay very low in our trenches, as several of our guns were firing short."

The 1st Battalion War Diary for the 12th says:

"5 a.m. Germans suddenly shell Battn HQ's. and advance in overwhelming numbers to the attack. Our right is forced to retire through fear of being outflanked, and Battalion after inflicting heavy losses on the enemy, retire to the support trench about 150 yards in rear. Enemy continue to advance massing on our right and right centre, but thrown into disorder by company bomber Pte Rivers and through counter attacks by our left and left centre retire being decimated by our fire, and Battalion regains its former trenches by charges, the enemy again suffering very heavily from our fire whilst retiring.

Weather fine but dull with a heavy mist in early morning.

7 a.m. Battalion in complete possession of its former line but during this action Captain Dixon, 2nd Lieuts Shacklock and Walker were killed and Lt/Adjt Stranger and 2nd Lieut Binney were wounded.

3p.m. Battalion suffer a few casualties from our own artillery fire. Lieutenant O'Dwyer was wounded.

9 p.m. Battalion withdrawn to support trench and a new defensive line is taken up.

6016 Private Jacob Rivers was awarded the Victoria Cross and was killed in this action." (See Footnote below)

The Battalion History goes into more detail:

"The morning of March 12th was very misty, and it was difficult to see beyond a short distance from the British trenches, when about 5 a.m. the enemy suddenly opened a very heavy gun-fire, shelling the Battalion headquarters in one of the above-mentioned farms, where Major Morley, now in command, had gathered his company commanders preparatory to a reconnaissance, and the Germans then advanced in great strength to the attack of four points on the Battalion front. The force attacking on the extreme left of the position was mistaken in the mist for a strong listening patrol which had been sent out up the road, and the return of which was then expected. A trench in the orchard on this flank was consequently successfully rushed, and the attackers then made for the left of the two farms, while another party attacked the buildings from the east. The platoon holding the northern face was completely surrounded, and the Germans, having bombed the building, stormed in, when severe hand-to-hand fighting took place in the farm rooms and courtyard,  the survivors of the garrison, eight in number, finally cutting their way out.

The main attack was delivered by a dense mass of Germans against the Battalion right, and the farm and trenches to the right were rushed, a machine gun in the farm doing great execution but failing seriously to check the attack, which swept over the right wing of the Foresters. A fighting mass of British and Germans, intermingled, at length reached the support trenches, and here the advance was checked by musketry fire, by the efforts of company-bomber Private Rivers, and by counter-attacks from the left and left-centre
The enemy now began to mass opposite the gaps between the Battalion right and the left of the 25th Brigade - some 200 to 300 yards.

Gradually British rifle-fire began to get the upper hand, and by 6.30 a.m. the German advance was stopped, and now a counter-attack was organized and executed by a company of the Worcesters and a company and a half of the Battalion, and the Germans were driven back to their starting point, their retreat becoming in its later stages more of the nature of a disordered flight. The original trenches were recaptured and reoccupied by about 7.30 a.m.

During the latter part of this fighting Captain H. B. Dixon, Second-Lieutenants G. M.
Shacklock and H. C. S. Walker were killed, and Lieutenant and Adjutant R. H. Stranger,
Lieutenant J. E. A. O'Dwyer and Second-Lieutenant E. H. Binney were wounded; of the
other ranks 90 were killed, 265 were wounded, and 87 were missing - the total casualties
in this fighting representing more than 50 per cent, of the Battalion strength. Of 18 officers
of the Battalion who went into action at Neuve Chapelle 16 were hit - 9 being killed and 7
wounded. On the other hand the enemy loss far exceeded ours; between the two lines over
400 dead Germans were counted, and some 200 more were lying between the opposing
trenches. In addition, the Foresters took between 40 and 50 prisoners, most of them wounded.

At 9 p.m. the Battalion was withdrawn to the support trench and a new defensive line was
taken up, and then, five hours later, an order was received for a further retirement to
reserve trenches on the Rue de Tilleloy at Sign Post Corner."

(The Officers named above who were killed in action were Captain Hubert Bradshaw DIXON,

Sometime during this action James also died. He had survived just 32 days with his Battalion before being killed in action on the 12th March 1915. The CWGC records show that he was one of the 98 Officers and men of the 1st Battalion killed that day. All but 7 have no known grave and are commemorated with James on the Le Touret Memorial. (63 more had been killed the day before and a further 29 on the 13th.)
                                         
Footnotes:
· James' younger brother Harry Pearson served with the East Yorkshire Regiment and older brother Joe in the Navy.

· Private 6016 Jacob Rivers, also of the 1st Battalion, was awarded the Victoria Cross and was killed in the same action that
   James lost his life. He was the son of George and Adeline Rivers, of Court 12, 4 Wide Yard, Bridge Gate, Derby.

An extract from the "London Gazette", dated 27th April 1915, records the following:-"For most conspicuous bravery at Neuve-
Chapelle on 12th March, 1915, when he, on his own initiative, crept to within a few yards of a very large number of the enemy
who were massed on the flank of an advanced company of his battalion, and hurled bombs on them. His action caused the
enemy to retire, and so relieved the situation. Pte. Rivers performed a second act of great bravery on the same day, similar
to the first mentioned, again causing the enemy to retire. He was killed on this occasion."
C L I C K - his picture (right) to read more.

Three other Victoria Crosses were earned that day - 2 to the 2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade, and 1 to 2/Leicestershire Regiment.

Sources:
· I am grateful to Martin McNeela for the notes from "1st and 2nd Battalions the Sherwood Foresters
  (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in the Great War" - H.C. Wylly (ISBN-10: 1845744241) pps. 17-18
· Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2008-0075,Frankreich

Link to CWGC Record
The Le Touret Memorial
L/Sgt Thomas Green's name on the Memorial
Pt Jacob Rivers
Neuve Chappell after the Battle (German Postcard)
Neuve Chappell after the Battle
(German Postcard)
poppy
Pt. Jacob Rivers, VC