Albert Hampton JAMES
Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion dark
Can’t say where I am……….
This photo was sent to Albert James’ sister, Beatrice Campbell, in 1915 with the inscription on the back, “Censorship is pretty tight so can’t say where I am”. He clearly had a wry sense of humour!
Albert arrived in Egypt with the 30th Battalion in December 1915 after enlisting in July just short of his 20th birthday – though he claimed to already be 21 years. There the battalion undertook training and defence of the Suez Canal before leaving for France in June. They travelled by train towards the trenches of the Western Front and the disastrous first engagement that became known as the Battle of Fromelles.
For Albert, his involvement at Fromelles ended when he received a significant shrapnel wound to his shoulder on 20th July 1916. He was admitted to the hospital at Wimereux and then evacuated on 21st July from Boulogne to England on board the hospital ship St Denis. He took some months to recuperate and eventually returned to his unit in November 1916. A letter that Albert wrote to his parents at this time was published in the local paper and is reproduced below.
Albert’s letter home – wounded at Fromelles
Saturday 7 October 1916, page 10 HOW ALBERT JAMES CAUGHT IT. Australians Cut Up in a Charge.
Private A. H. James, son of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. James, of Ross street, Parramatta, formerly of Castle Hill, is now in hospital in Leeds, England. He wrote home on August 11:
"I was wounded on July 19th. We were fighting near Armentieres, and were ordered to take the German trenches opposite, which of course meant a charge; and charge we did, but am sorry to say we were practically cut to pieces by Fritz's machine-guns and artillery. All the same we took the trenches, but owing to not being able to get enough ammunition across no man's land (between ours and the German trenches) we had to give the trenches up again, much to our sorrow.
I was in the Germans' second line of trenches when I was hit with a piece of shrapnel. It went in my shoulder at the back and completely put me out of action. I got a terrible shock when I was hit, the force of the blow knocking me down. One of the boys bandaged me up as best he could. I don't know who it was that did it though. This was at about 6 o'clock at night, but it was 4 o'clock next morning before I could get back to our own trenches. I don't know what happened to Ray Paul or any of the others, as I never saw them after we charged, but I hope they are all right, but I'm afraid they ___.
When I got back to our trenches I managed to get to the dressing station, where they bandaged me up properly. I was then taken to another dressing station where I received further treatment and was innoculated. I was then taken to a field hospital and put to bed. I no sooner hit the bed than I was asleep, for I had hardly any sleep for about a week before that. Next morning we were sent by train to the 8th Stationary Hospital at Boulogne, where we stayed until next morning, when I was examined by the doctor and sent to England. We were landed at Dover and sent by train all the way to Leeds in Yorkshire. This is a very nice place, and I am getting the best of treatment. For the first week I was very bad; my temperature was up to 105 deg. The nurses tell me it was a near go for me.
On the 26th July, my 21st birthday, I was operated on. After being X-rayed and the position of the shrapnel (which was inside) found, the doctor soon had it out, but he put an awful gash in my back from the top of the shoulder right round under the arm, where he made a big hole— almost got an egg-cup in it. For a long time I had a big tube right through me, but, thank God, I have it out now. I cannot use my arm yet to any extent, but it won't be long before it is right, so the doctor says. This was a nice little birthday present, wasn't it?
These good people treat Australians as if they were lords or something else. They cannot do enough for us. After I was wounded I lost everything I had, even my bit of money, so am stony broke, and the authorities won't pay us any until after we are convalescent. I suppose you will be putting my photo in 'The Argus' now as a wounded soldier? Ha! ha!
Source: HOW ALBERT JAMES CAUGHT IT. (1916, October 7). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 - 1950), p. 10. Retrieved May 23, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86077390
Albert served out the remainder of the war but suffered extensive periods of hospitalisation – including a second evacuation back to England. His casualty forms show him as suffering primarily from bronchitis and influenza (raising suspicions for some that he may have been gassed at some stage) but also from impetigo of the face and trench fever. He spent nearly 10 months in England during 1917 and then, on his return to France, he was hospitalised off and on throughout February to May 1918. After May, he seemed to have recovered his health.
In July 1918, he was promoted in the field to Lance Corporal, then temporary corporal in September and finally corporal in December 1918.
During this period, Albert was awarded a commendation (mentioned in orders by the Corps Commander, General Monash), together with Privates Dawson and Strong, based on the following recommendation dated September 1918:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the operations 26th, 27th and 28th August 1918 which resulted in the capture of Foucacourt, and the advancing of our line to Estrees. These men were No.1’s of Lewis Gun teams of the left attacking company. The village was very strongly held by nests of enemy machine guns, and prior to the attack all three men displayed great initiative and disregard of personal danger in moving from position to position, from where they could most effectively deal with enemy machine gun nests. By their splendid work a great deal of the opposition by enemy machine guns was dealt with. Their work was of a very high order, and the fact that their Company suffered comparatively few casualties was mainly due to their effective work in silencing enemy machine gun nests.
Signed J. Talbot Hobbs, Major-General, Commanding 5th Australian Division.
Recommended by E. Tivey, Brig. Gen. Commanding 8th Aust Infantry Brigade.
Safely home in Australia
Albert left England for Australia in April 1919, returning to his pre-enlistment trade as a carpenter. He had completed his apprenticeship with A.W. Oldfield in Auburn before the war.
On Christmas Eve 1921, he married Eileen Adele Martin at North Parramatta All Saints Church and they went on to have three sons (Ronald, Colin and Vernon) and two daughters who sadly died in infancy (Doreen and Deidre).
When the second World War broke out, Albert enlisted with the Citizen Militia Forces in October 1941 before transferring to the AIF in September 1942. He was discharged as medically unfit in July 1944, aged 49. His two eldest sons also served.
Albert remained in Parramatta until his death in February 1958 aged 62. His funeral service was conducted at the All Saints Anglican Church where he and Eileen had married 36 years earlier. Eileen herself died in September 2001 at 99 years of age.
Remembered in France and in Australia
Albert’s military service medals from both world wars and his Returned from Active Service badge were on display at the museum housed in the town hall at Fromelles in France. The current Battle of Fromelles Museum (whose origins began with that town hall museum) provided a photo of the medals (below) together with a shell fragment, probably representative of the injury Albert suffered at the Battle of Fromelles.
“Uncle Albert has only been known to me as a photograph on a wall” says Noela Shortman but she takes great pride in the service her family member gave to this country:
“My family travelled to Villers Bretonneux in 2009 for the Anzac Ceremony and laid a wreath of purple and yellow flowers (the 30th Battalion colours) with this photo of Albert James and his unknown mate. It was a sobering experience for our 20-year-old son who discovered the headstones in numerous Commonwealth cemeteries we visited showed half the dead were younger than him.
We also visited Fromelles in 2019 and stood at the site of the 30th Battalion engagement on the morning of 19 July 1916. Now a beautiful peaceful place.”
This story was written by Noela Shortman, a member of a Queensland branch of this largely New South Wales based family. She may be contacted via the Fromelles Association and also wrote that:
“I would love to discover other members of Albert’s family, who may not be aware of the service of a much loved and respected soldier”.
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