James Leslie HOLMES
Eyes light blue, Hair fair, Complexion fair
About Private J. L. Holmes and his family
Born 20 February 1894 in Murwillumbah, James Leslie Holmes was named for his father James Henry Holmes. James junior, the sixth of seven children, was known as Les. His parents came from Kendal, Westmoreland where they had married in 1883 and had two daughters before emigrating to Australia in about 1887.
The family kept close connections with the Cumbrian town of Kendal, naming their home in Murwillumbah ‘Kendal’. In addition, it seems that the eldest Holmes daughter, Margaret, remained in Kendal with her maternal grandparents when Elizabeth left England with baby Mabel in 1887. Elizabeth and Mabel were joining James Henry who had arrived in Australia the previous year. The family settled in Murwillumbah and a further three daughters and two sons were born.
James Henry was a chemist who died in December 1903 when Les was 9 years old. Les’ mother, Elizabeth Ann (born Gott) - with her youngest child just three years of age - appears to have taken over the business, trading as J. H. Holmes & Co.. Certainly, the eldest son, Bertie (Hubert), later trained as a chemist and operated the business for many decades in Main Street, Murwillumbah. Elizabeth Holmes died in Murwillumbah in 1951.
James Leslie completed his four-year apprenticeship with local coach builder A. E. Latter and then worked for Newlyn’s Coach factory as a wheelwright.
Murwillumbah goes to war
James Leslie enlisted in September 1915 and began his training in Sydney. He had his final leave in Murwillumbah in December of that year. His sisters and mother became involved in fundraising to assist the Red Cross and to provide comforts to soldiers overseas.
Les Holmes - Killed in Action
After his leave in December 1915, Private Holmes embarked with the 2nd Battalion for Egypt. In March 1916, he transferred to the 54th Battalion leaving for France in June. It was there that he was killed on 19-20 July 1916 in his unit’s first major action on the Western Front, one resulting in horrific casualties. He was then 22 years old.
Holmes’ body was not recovered but his name was on the German Death list submitted to the Royal Prussian War Office (Medical Section) in Berlin in August 1916. This confirmed that he had been killed on 19 July at Fromelles. The family held a memorial service for their son and brother on 20 August 1916.
In 1917, his identity disc was returned by the Germans and it was later forwarded to his mother as next of kin.
His name is inscribed on the Honour Roll at Murwillumbah’s St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. He is also honoured on the Murwillumbah War Memorial, unveiled on ANZAC Day 1924 by the mothers, sisters and wives of the deceased soldiers. We can only imagine that Les’ mother, Elizabeth, and sisters - Mabel, Linda, Doris and Winnie - attended to pay tribute along with his brother, Bert.
Elizabeth Holmes was issued her son’s war medals as next of kin - the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory medal. Before issuing the medals, military authorities sought confirmation that Elizabeth was the nearest blood relative entitled to receive them. In the letter below, Elizabeth confirmed her right to receive them and they were issued accordingly.
When Elizabeth died in 1951, we presume that the medals passed to one of her surviving children. Only two of them had married. Bert in Murwillumbah had no children while Margaret, still back in Kendal in England, had two daughters but they never married. Whatever the steps in their journey, it seems that at least two of the medals went to England, presumably to Margaret’s family as they appeared for sale on a London auction site in 2010. Perhaps the last family connection to James Leslie Holmes was now gone.
Lot 709, the British War and Victory medals issued for Private J. L. Holmes were auctioned on 31st March 2010 and sold for £410.
Elizabeth Holmes also received the memorial scroll and plaque. The plaque, commonly known as the ‘dead man’s penny’, was issued to families of soldiers killed in the war. Pictured below, this plaque was donated in 1997 and is in the safe custody of the Tweed Regional Museum.
The search for DNA
With James Leslie’s name appearing on the German Death List, it makes it probable that he is buried in the Pheasant Wood cemetery - known unto God.
James Leslie was one of seven children but only his sister, Margaret, had any issue. We managed to trace a mt DNA donor through the female line in 2014. After six years of research, going back further generations, we recently managed to locate a Y donor and are awaiting the results of the testing of this sample. (IDB meeting proposed for late 2021)
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