James Robert Higginbotham, Sgt 11270, D Coy, 5th Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry
Died 16th June 1915 near Ypres, aged 37
James Robert Higginbotham was born on 3rd May 1878 in Macclesfield, the eldest son of Amelia and Joseph Higginbotham, a draper’s assistant.
Joseph and Amelia left Liverpool for America with their two young sons James (aged 2) and Leonard (aged 1) on the S.S. Wisconsin, arriving at New York on 3rd March 1881. They travelled in a cabin and were listed as ‘gent’ and ‘lady’ on the passenger list, and must have saved their money for some time to be able to afford the fare. The family settled in Pennsylvania where Edwin was born on 27th August 1881 and Sarah on 3rd January 1883; but they had returned to live in Lord Street, Macclesfield, by the time their last child, Mary Ellen, was baptised at the Park Street New Connexion Methodist Chapel, Macclesfield, on 20th June 1885, aged 7 weeks.
The family later moved to 27 Churchside, where they were living when the older children were baptised at St Michael’s Church, Macclesfield on 29th August 1886.
By 1891 Amelia was a widow and employed as a monthly nurse, living at 27 Churchside with sons James (12, a silk operative), Leonard (11, an errand boy), Edwin (9), daughters Sarah (7) and Mary (5), and Amelia’s cousin James Tute (2 months).
James attested with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (service no. 5359) at Manchester on 28th June 1897 for a period of 7 years service plus 5 years in the reserve. He stated that he was born in Hurdsfield near Macclesfield, was aged 18 years 9 months and was employed as a fustian cutter. He also stated that he was already serving in the army with the 4th Cheshire (Militia) Regiment. He was described as 5 feet 5¾ inches tall, weighed 115 pounds, with a 32 inch chest, a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair, and he had a tattoo of an anchor on his left forearm.
On 27th December 1898, James was sent abroad to serve in India. One year later, on 27th December 1899, he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and he continued to serve in India until he returned to England on 13th March 1903, when he was promoted to Corporal.
On 27th June 1904 James was transferred to the army reserve, having completed his seven years service, and on 27th June 1909 he was finally discharged from the army, after completing his term of five years in the reserves.
James married Mary Ellen Fowles on the 15th August 1908 at St. Thomas’ Church, Ardwick, Manchester, where they were living at 10 Brydon Street. By 1911 the couple had moved to 13 Gordon Street, Ardwick, Manchester, where James was employed by the London and North Western Railway Company as a bridge painter, and Mary Ellen worked at home making shirts.
James attested in Manchester, and joined the 5th Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. The Battalion left Aldershot for Folkestone on the evening of 20th May 1915, arriving at Boulogne at 1.30am on 21st May. At 9.30am the Battalion departed Boulogne for Pont au Brique, where they entrained for Cassel. From Cassel, they undertook a long and tiring march before arriving at their billets at Erkelsbrugge.
On 27th May the Battalion marched to billets at Eecke, and on 31st May they moved to dug-outs about 2 miles south-west of Ypres to participate in the Second Battle of Ypres.
On 15th June the Battalion was at Vlamertinghe and at 8pm they moved to dug-outs East of Ypres. At about 10am the following morning, 16th June 1915, they marched to support the British attack east of Ypres which had been preceeded by a two hour gun bombardment. The regiment came under very heavy shell fire, high explosives, etc during which Captain Avery and Lieutenant Ellis, and eleven men from other ranks were killed, 2nd Lieutenants Stark and French, and 57 men from other ranks were wounded, and one man was reported missing. 2nd Lieut. V. D. French died of his wounds the following day.
James Higginbotham was one of the men killed during this action on 16th June 1915. News of his death was printed in the Macclesfield Courier of 24th July 1915:
“News has been received of the death of Sergeant James Higginbotham (aged 37), D. Company, 5th K.S.L.I., who was killed in action. Before the war he resided with his wife at 141 Devon Street, Ardwick, Manchester, and was employed on the London and North-Western Railway. He was a native of Macclesfield, being the eldest son of Mrs Higginbotham, 21 Brunswick Street, Macclesfield. He was an old soldier, having served with the 2nd K.S.L.I. in India, and having many years ago completed his reserve. He gave up his job on the outbreak of war, and rejoined his old regiment. During their preparations for France he was successful with his platoon in various drill competitions, having won first prize for smart turnouts, and was especially complimented by his C.O. Writing to his widow, a private in his platoon, after expressing his regret and sympathy with her, said that the circumstances of his death were as follows: – ‘Lieutenant Ellis was down a road near a wood when he was struck by a piece of shell. Sergeant Higginbotham immediately rushed from cover to his assistance, and whilst attending him another shell burst and killed them both outright.’
Sergeant Higginbotham leaves a widow but no family.”
Sgt James Higginbotham is buried in grave ref. I. L. 46. in Perth Cemetery (China Wall) in Belgium.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Sgt James Higginbotham, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.