HRFHS Area Servicemen Who lost Their Lives in WWI, October 1917
Click on the link: WWI Killed in Action October 1917
Each month, one of those who gave their lives is researched in order to present a short biography. These few brave servicemen are representative of the many not only in this little corner of the Country but across the World. They are ordinary men who had dreams and hopes and they left behind ordinary families whose dreams and hopes were shattered. This month it is:
Lance-Corporal James Henry NOAKES Royal Kent Regiment, The Buffs (1894-1917)
James Noakes would not have remembered much, or anything at all, about his grandfather, William, who died aged 50. William Junior, James’ father, was born and grew up in Winchelsea where he went to work on the land – like his father – from an early age. He was an agricultural labourer by 1881 when he was 14-years-old. Quite soon after, he moved out, leaving his widowed mother in the care of older brother, Charles, but seems to have avoided the 1891 Census, by which year he had married and was working as a shepherd in Rye. By 1907, the family had moved further east along the coast to Lydd on the Romney Marshes to bring up their children on Scotney Sheep Farm. As soon as he was old enough, James was made “under shepherd”, working with his father. This particular Noakes family had managed to rise out of agricultural labouring into the more skilled – and more profitable – work with livestock. The potential for young James was good. James was the fourth child in a large family of 6 boys and 4 girls, born between 1887 and 1910. His mother, Mary, had the first when she was no more than 20-years-old and was into her forties for the last of the ten.
James was still living at home when he made the journey to Dover on 4th September 1914 to join the Buffs; the Royal East Kent Regiment. He became Private G/677 James Henry Noakes. His enlistment papers survive and provide a description of his physical appearance: “palid” complexion; blue eyes; black hair; 5ft 9in; 131lb; mole left side of back. He spent nearly a year in training – no doubt Shorncliffe, Folkestone – and in that time fell foul of Army regulations on more than one occasion. Overstaying his pass by several hours earned him a couple of spells in the glasshouse and loss of pay. Eventually he was posted with the British Expeditionary Force to France on 28th July 1915.
Once in the field, James was clearly able to redeem himself as he was promoted to Lance-Corporal a year later, on 26th September 1916. Presumably there were no temptations or possibilities to neglect deadlines on a pass. More likely, there was never a pass available. Shortly after his promotion, James developed synovitis, a particularly painful condition of inflammation in the joints. His comrades would no doubt have envied him as this was serious enough to give him a ticket back home where he was admitted to hospital on 16th October 1916. He was receiving treatment for more than three months until his discharge, 27th January 1917. A few more weeks of recuperation and he was posted back into the field.
James’ luck ran out on 10th October 1917 when he was reported missing following action at Ypres. He was ‘presumed dead’ at that time but it was not until 2nd March 1920 – over two years later – that his parents were informed that he had definitely been killed in action and that his grave was “right of the road to St Julien from Poelcappelle, 5 miles north-east of Ypres”.
Of their six sons, William and Mary Noakes lost only James in the conflict but that would not have reduced the grief his loss brought upon the whole family. All of his siblings were healthy and fit and, fortunately, went on to produce families of their own, many in the Romney Marsh area. James’ sacrifice was bitterly felt and there must have been many times in the final year of the War and the years following that his parents and family wondered if he did actually perish.
Parents, William and Mary Roberts, returned from Kent to their roots in later life. William died at Offens Cottage, East Guldeford, near Rye, 23rd October 1937, aged 70 years. He left just over £200 to Mary in his will which was a reasonably comfortable sum for the day. James’ mother, Mary must have been extremely robust. She gave birth ten times and lived 90 years, passing in the Battle area in 1958. Witnessing the horrors of the Second War on the South Coast would have brought back the sorrow of losing James forty years previously.
The full list for the duration of WWI can be found in the Members’ Area. If you are a member simply log in and scroll the Resources section. If you are not a member why not consider joining? Go to: http://www.hrfhs.org.uk/details-rates/