Private James Scanlan LEIGH

Royal Marine Light Infantry
2nd Royal Marine Battalion,
Royal Naval (Plymouth) Division.
Service Number:
Date of Death:
11 July 1917
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
I. G. 5.

Personal History:

James was born at 3 Cazeneuve Street, Rochester, Kent on the 2nd September 1892, the son of James (Labourer, Cement Works) and Lizzie Fanny Elizabeth (née Peek) Leigh. He had an older sister, Maria, born in 1890, who died as a baby in 1891. In 1901 James was living with his father at the home of his grandfather (also James) and his family at 9 Formby Terrace, Halling, Kent. (Census RG 13/719)
By 1911 (Census RG 14/21239) father James, now a widower, had moved to Buxton, no doubt attracted to the work in the quarries, and was lodging with the Smith family at Hindlow. CWGC records show that he later moved to 105 London Road, Buxton. There is no apparent record when Lizzie died. James himself was not living with his father nor his grandfather, in fact he cannot be traced on the 1911 Census, although it is known that he enlisted in the Royal Marines later in the year.

Military History:
Unfortunately, James' Service Records have not survived but Naval records show that he enlisted into the Marines on the 17th August 1911 and served on "HMS Triumph" from the 6th September 1914 to the 25th May 1915 when it was sunk by U-Boat off Anzac Beach.

In January 1915 HMS Triumph had been ordered to join Admiral Cardan at the Dardanelles and on the 19th February took part in the firing on the fort on Cape Helles, firing at 7,700 yards with her 10 in. guns. She was only able to fire 14 rounds between 10.00am and 12.15 p.m., because it was difficult to spot where her shells were landing.

She next supported the destroyers and minesweepers during the bombardment of the
25th February. On the next day she was one of three battleships chosen to make the
first opposed entry into the straits for one hundred years, in an attempt to attack the
Turkish forts directly. During this period her Captain, Captain FitzMaurice, wrote a report
in which he concluded that the naval bombardment could not succeed unless the Allied
occupied part of the Gallipoli peninsula, to provide a stable base to observe the effect of
the naval guns.

On the 18th March HMS Triumph was one of the battleships attempting to force the narrows.
Her role was to support the first squadron by firing on the Turkish barrage guns. She was then
relieved by her sister ship HMS Swiftsure. She made another entry into the straits on the 15th
April, with army officers on board, to see what naval guns would do to trenches and barbed wire – the answer was “not enough”.

During the Gallipoli landings of the 25th April James' ship supported the Anzac landing at Gaba Tepe and was the first ship to take up position off the landing beaches, where her role was to act as a guide for the rest of the fleet, showing a dim light when required. She then supported the landings, partly by helping to force the Turkish flagship Torgud Reis to pull back out of bombardment range. 

On the 25th May she was bombarding Turkish positions around Gaba Tepe and had her anti-torpedo nets in the water, her light guns were manned against submarine attack and was protected by the destroyer HMS Chelmer. Despite this, U-21 under Lieut-Comm. Hersing hit her with a torpedo. She immediately began to list to one side, and sank in half an hour. Fortunately, Captain FitzMaurice had ordered the crew to abandon ship the moment the list became dangerous, and all but 73 of her crew survived.

The loss of HMS Triumph was one of a series of sinkings by U-boats that forced the navy to pull its battleships out of the danger zone, significantly reducing the chances of the attack on Gallipoli.


After being rescued from the sinking of HMS Triumph James returned to England and embarked with the Royal Marine Brigade on the 24th October 1915, and joined the 2nd Royal Marine Battalion in the Royal Naval Division at Cape Helles on the 22nd November 1915.

After suffering crippling losses at ANZAC and Cape Helles (April-August 1915), the four RMLI Battalions were amalgamated into two - James would have joined either 'C' or 'D' Company of the 2nd Battalion, formed from the 'Plymouth' contingent.

The Royal Naval Division had taken over a new sector from the 29th Division on the 15th August 1915. This new line was between Gully Ravine and Krithia Nullah. They stayed on that line until the 11th December when they moved over to their old positions on the left of the French lines. When the French withdrew from Gallipoli at the end of December, the Division took over their line all the way to the coast.

From this time (31st December) until they left the trenches on the night of the 7th/8th January, 2nd Royal Marines Battalion was in reserve in the Eski Line. During this period 11 men of the 2nd Royal Marines Battalion were killed in action or died of their wounds, caused by Turkish shelling of the trenches.

By the end of the Division's part in the Gallipoli campaign, James was one of the very few men with sea service who remained. The Division transferred from the authority of the Admiralty to the War Office on the29th April 1916 and was redesignated as the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division on 19th July 1916. The Division moved to France, arriving at Marseilles between the 12th - 23rd May 1916. Later, in November, they took part in The Battle of the Ancre, a phase of the Battles of the Somme (13th - 18th November) and in 1917 fought in the Operations on the Ancre (January - March), especially at Miraumont, (17th - 21st February) when the 2nd Battalion had 32 killed. Next came The Second Battle of the Scarpe (23rd - 24th April 1917), a phase of the Arras Offensive, in which the Division captured Gavrelle (166 killed and 176 POW) and The Battle of Arleux (28th -29th April 1917), another phase of the Arras Offensive.

"While the vast majority of RM casualties occurred during the actions listed below, certain 'quiet' periods might see a complete absence of deaths. Therefore, deaths recorded outside of the dates of major attacks were the unlucky few who 'copped it' either in accidents or in the normal trench routine & duties in holding the line. The firing line was a dangerous place, even during the long periods of stalemate that preceded & followed the comparatively few occasions of going 'over the top.' Trench Mortars, shellfire, gas, trench raids & laying barbed wire defences (Wiring Parties) were the most common causes of deaths outside of the dates normally expected, while deaths from wounds received during the attacks, sometimes months later, accounted for many more."

This was the case in July 1917, when James' Battalion had 21 Officers and men killed or died of wounds. James and two others (Pt William Frank FORD and Pt. Adolphus NICHOLLS) died on the 11th. Many of James comrades from that time are buried with him at Orchard Dump Cemetery.

· Photo of HMS Triumph -  Australian War Memorial, ID Number: 302491

Commemorated on:
Link to CWGC Record
Pt Leigh's grave
HMS Triumph, off Gallipoli May 1915
HMS Triumph, off Gallipoli May 1915
.... about HMS Triumph