1914 - 2023

The Marston Lads

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James Spencer

Killed in Action
25th March 1918

Aged 29

1/4th Battalion
The Kings Shropshire Light Infantry

28 Church Street
2 Green Lane
and later
80 Chapel Street

James Spencer was born in 1888 in Wincham to Jesse and Fanny (Crump). Jesse was born in Witton in 1856 and, like his father Samuel Spencer worked in the local Salt Works. Fanny was from Cound in Shrewsbury. They were married at St Paul’s Church in Marston on 27th December 1877 and were to have nine children, though sadly on the 1911 census one of them is shown to have died. James was the fifth born.

Marriage certificate from 1877 of Jessie Spencer and Fanny Crump.
They were married at St Paul's Church Marston.
James Spencer's war enlistment records are missing and presumed one of the 50% destroyed during the London Blitz in 1940. But with help of relatives of James Spencer, we should be able to piece together James Spencer's time in the war. If you have any further information regarding James Spencer please get in touch.

It's not known when James attested for The Kings Shropshire Light Infantry. When the First World War broke out, if he was still a Cowman, he would be regarded as an essential worker.

In January 1916 the Military Service Act was passed.
Conscription introduced January 1916.

In January 1916 the Military Service Act was passed. This imposed conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41, but exempted the medically unfit, clergymen, teachers, farmers and certain classes of industrial worker.
There has been little research on how the conscription process worked in 1916. The number of volunteers for the First World War could not keep pace with the sheer number of casualties, men were simply called up and it was up to each man to request an exemption. This would normally be carried out through a Tribunal.

It was never the case that a 'reserved occupation' was given an automatic right under the act, other circumstances would be taken into account. If the man was married, his age, any medical condition, the number of children and if anyone else could do his job. There was also tremendous peer pressure, both locally and nationally with propaganda posters were everywhere.
With James Spencer's friends being killed and with many local people looking for revenge, James Spencer took up the call to arms. No record exists of an Exemption Tribunal for James Spencer, something as a Cowman he could have done. He simply acccepted conscription and went to war.

Those who were called up for the war didn't have the option of selecting which armed services they wished to serve. This will explain why James Spencer joined the 1st & 4th Battalions of The Kings Shropshire Light Infantry.
'The First Battle of Bapaume 1918'
Bapaume centre of map

The first battle of Bapaume was a major German military offensive during the First World War that began the Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. It was launched from the Hindenburg Line, in the vicinity of Saint-Quentin, France. Its goal was to break through the Allied (Entente) lines and advance in a north-westerly direction to seize the Channel Ports, which supplied the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and to drive the BEF into the sea.

Two days later General Erich Ludendorff, the chief of the German General Staff, adjusted his plan and pushed for an offensive due west, along the whole of the British front north of the River Somme. This was designed to first separate the French and British Armies before continuing with the original concept of pushing the BEF into the sea. The offensive ended at Villers-Bretonneux, to the east of the Allied communications centre at Amiens, where the Allies managed to halt the German advance; the German Army had suffered many casualties and was unable to maintain supplies to the advancing troops.

Much of the ground fought over was the wilderness left by the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The action was therefore officially named by the British Battles Nomenclature Committee as The First Battles of the Somme, 1918, whilst the French call it the Second Battle of Picardy (2ème Bataille de Picardie). The failure of the offensive marked the beginning of the end of the First World War for Germany.

The arrival in France of large reinforcements from the United States replaced Entente casualties but the German Army was unable to recover from its losses before these reinforcements took the field. Operation Michael failed to achieve its objectives and the German advance was reversed during the Second Battle of the Somme

                                             A Mother's Anguish.
The casualties for the First Battle of Bapaume between the 21st March and the 5th April 1918 are disturbing, with 254,816 for the Allies and 239,800 for Germany.

James Spencer was reported missing on the 25th of March 1918. We don't often know how loved ones reacted to this news. A newspaper request from James's parents asking for information goes some way to understanding the trauma when they first received news their son could not be found, as this article explains.

The official date given when James Spencer was killed was the 23rd March 1918. His body was located and buried at Bancourt British Cemetery which is located in the Pas de Calais region of France, on the Western Front.

James Spencer's mother Fanny Spencer

4th Battalion KSLI – First Battle of Bapaume

At 6am on March 21st the order came to stand by in readiness to advance and at 12.30 the battalion moved towards the front line. One Company moved to a beetroot factory near Lebucquiere with the remaining Companies being dug in at Gaika Copse, Le Velu. At 23.30 the battalion withdrew to a trench in the east of Fremicourt Wood, though one Company remained at the beetroot factory. This was to support the defence of Beugny.

At midnight on the 22/23 March the battalion moved to Lebucquiere to take up position in support of the front line. At 10.00 on the 23rd the enemy was seen pushing back the Division on their right. An S.O.S to the artillery had produced no response and the battalion received orders to fight alongside the Cheshire and 8th North Staffordshire Regiments. At 13.15 a fresh attack started from the Beugny direction. The Battalion retired to Bancourt to reorganize.

It is during this action that James was believed to have lost his life.

James Spencer was aged 29 when he was killed. He was never married.

Our thanks to the relatives of James Spencer who have assisted with construction of his web-page; in particular Chris Bent, Geoff Painter and Emma Ashley (Australia) with helping to keep James Spencer's memories
Bancourt British Cemetery, France.
Tony Hayes