James was baptised on November 25th 1894 at St. Lawrence, Biddulph and was the son of Thomas and Ellen of Knowle Style. His father was a collier. In 1901 the family still lived at Knowle Style. James had many siblings: Martha, John William, Henry, Harriet, Annie, Alice, and Charles. Next door to the Stubbs family at Knowle Style lived the Barnett’s. Their son, William was the same age as James and no doubt they played together as children. William Barnett also died in battle in 1917.
The 1911 census records that James was one of ten children born to the couple and that all were still alive by that date. In that year the family lived at 185, John Street and appear to have remained there throughout the war. James, aged 16 in 1911, was described as a miner. At some point James married but we have been unable to locate any marriage details. A newspaper article reporting that he was missing in August 1918 mentions his wife, Mrs. J. Stubbs, who was living in Wales at the time. The CWGC states that his widow, Bessie Stubbs was living at 72, Phillip Street, Hoole, Chester. Cheshire BMD records a marriage between James Stubbs and Bessie Evans at Prenton, on the Wirral, in 1916 which may well be the marriage for our James.
At the outset of hostilities in 1914 James enlisted in the army at Macclesfield. This was on August 24th when he joined the 11th Battalion Cheshire Regiment. The basic training was carried out at Codford St. Mary and Bournemouth, followed in May 1915 with more intensive instruction at Aldershot and finally Salisbury Plain. With training complete and after an inspection by Lord Kitchener on August 12th, the soldiers in the 25th Division with whom the 11th Cheshires were now attached, were ready for war. The division crossed the channel on September 26th 1915 and on landing they moved forward to their concentration area at Nieppe. James and his mates settled on the Western Front holding their positions in Flanders until May 1916 when they took a defensive role at Vimy Ridge during the battle for this important area. The next major assault came in the Battle of the Somme in July. The 25th Division found action at Aveluy Wood, Martinsart, Bazentin and Ovillers where heavy losses were inflicted on the division. At Pozieies on August 21st the 11th Cheshires made a successful attack using the new “push pipe mine” on the enemy positions.
Early September found the division, to their relief, taken out of line. They travelled by old London buses to a safe back area near Abbeville for a rest period. By late September James and his pals were ordered into battle again to fight in the river Ancre area. By October, conditions here were appalling but the troops successfully captured the “The Mound” in a bitter fight. The Somme Offensive continued until November. Deteriorating weather and ground conditions then slowed the war with the next month spent holding the gains made over the Somme battlefield.
Messines in June 1917 brought more inevitable hardship to the battalion fighting on this high ridge. More was to come from July when the division moved to the Ypres Salient to fight in the Third Battle of Ypres seeing action at Pilkem, Westhoek and Bellewaarde Ridges, battles that cost the division over 1200 casualties. Fighting in the salient continued until December when the men were loaded into cattle wagons for a rail journey south to Achiet le Grand Bullecourt. Here the men spent another unbelievably cold winter in frozen or water filled trenches.
James was in the Bapaume and St. Quentin areas of the old Somme battle ground when in March 1918 the enemy began their major offensive. The whole front was in retreat, the division at one time making a 36-mile march in 36 hours. The men were “dead on their feet” with little in the way of food or water. It was a period in which the battalion lost many of its men. Many were taken prisoner. In April the battles of Estaires, Kemmel and the Lys followed. The men fought valiantly but were driven back and the whole division was decimated in these battles and lost 7700 men with the 11th Cheshire Regiment suffering particularly badly.
The 25th Division were withdrawn from the battlefield to transfer for recuperation and refit in a safe area in the Soissons and Chemin-des-Dame District, and so began a long journey by train, arriving on May 9th 1918. They, along with four other divisions of battle exhausted troops, took rest in this French Sector of the front. By now James had been at war for 4 years. We don’t know his exact military history as we have not been able to locate his service records but he must have been one of the longest serving Biddulph men.
This safe area was soon to become the battle field of the Third Aisne. On the evening of May 26th/27th 1918 the enemy attacked with an artillery bombardment and this was followed by an infantry attack. In these actions, sadly at the age of 25, Private James Stubbs fell on the field. He died on May 27th 1918 and now rests in the Chambrecy British Cemetery, Marne.
The Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel of August 3rd 1918 reported that Sergeant J. Stubbs of Biddulph was missing: “Official news has been received by Mrs. J. Stubbs, School House, Pontfedog, Chirk, Denbighshire, that her husband, Sergt. J. Stubbs, Cheshire Regiment, was reported missing on May 26th. He is the son of Mr. & Mrs. T. Stubbs, 185, John Street and has been in the Army since August 24th 1914. He was previously a miner at Black Bull.”
James is remembered on the St. Lawrence churchyard cross and memorial board and the cenotaph in Albert Square.
Michael Turnock and Elaine Heathcote.