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James Arthur Bloomfield - War Service 1914-16


 Just after the First World War broke out in August 1914, James Arthur volunteered to serve in the Coldstream Guards and was enrolled on 1st September 1914, on which date his age was given as 18 years 1 day.  He was, in fact, about six weeks short of his 18th birthday and, at the time, employed as a ‘lamp lad’ by the North Eastern Railway – “height 5ft.8 ¾ ins, weight 138 lb., complexion fresh, eyes blue, hair dark brown.”  He was immediately sent to the Guards Depot at Caterham, Surrey and then to the 4th (Reserve) Battalion of the Coldstreams at Windsor as Private 11490, and for the next six months or so remained in training and on guard duties.  On at least one occasion, whilst on guard duty at Windsor Castle, he told me that he had met King George V.

      On 17th March 1915 he was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstreams serving in France as part of the ‘British Expeditionary Force Overseas’.  He left Southampton that same day for Le Havre and, from there, the battalion made their way to the Front at Cuinchy.  The next month they were moved to the Bethune area and to the front line at Festubert.  On 20th May, after being in the trenches for only 24 hours, he was wounded in the foot, knee and arm whilst guiding a relieving party of the Black Watch to their positions near Rue du Bois (Choclat Menier Corner). The War Diary of the 2nd Battalion for that day is as follows:-

 'Bn in Trenches.

At dark the Battalion was relieved in the Trenches by 1/6 Bn The Black Watch (Scottish Lowland  Division)

Casualties    2 Other Ranks killed

                    12 Other Ranks wounded

These trenches were part of the position taken from the enemy on the 16th/17th May, and during the day  were very heavily  shelled by the enemy with every description of shell.

After relief the Battalion marched to Oblinghem and went into Billet arriving about 3 am on the 21st'

      James' right foot was amputated at St. Omer and he returned to Dover on 22nd June.  From there he was sent up to Wharncliffe War Hospital, Sheffield where there was a further amputation on 15th July followed by convalescence.  His service with the B.E.F. amounted to 98 days.  A small postcard addressed to a Mrs. Waters of Herstmonceux (sic), Sussex was found in James Arthur’s red Army Service Book; it gives a brief, first hand account of those 98 days.

       An artificial limb was fitted at Wharncliffe on 18th March 1916 and James Arthur was discharged from the Army on 20th April 1916 – total military service 1 year 233 days.  For his disability he received a pension of 25/- per week for the first two months and then 10/6-(52½ p) per week ‘for life’.  This last was increased to £1 per week some time after the Second World War.

      Some time after his return to England my father was offered a white feather by a woman passer-by who told him that he should be in France, like her son. He replied: 'in that case please ask him to look for my foot.'

      It is interesting to note that James Arthur was very much a ‘growing boy’ during his Army service.  When he joined at the age of 17 he was 5’ 8 ¾”; when he left nearly two years later he was 5’ 11”.

      With an Army character reference as a “steady, hardworking man” he returned to civilian life at the age of 19 minus one leg and with no qualifications.  By this time the Bloomfield family had moved to 18 Temperance Street and it was here that some of the family experienced the third Zeppelin bombing raid on West Hartlepool on 13th March 1918. 14 year-old sister Gladys was in the house with an older married cousin and they sheltered in the cupboard under the stairs The house was damaged and they were eventually rescued, very frightened but unharmed apart from a covering of soot and dust. They later said that the only parts of them not black were the white streaks down their faces where their tears had washed away the grime.

Keith Bloomfield.


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