Private James Henry Hartley

This is one of two essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Kentucky.

The grave of Private James Henry Hartley
The grave of Private James Henry Hartley

Private James Hartley was one of the first men to join the newly formed Machine Gun Corps in the autumn of 1915. He was one of 79 men from The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) who formed the basis of 46th Company. By the end of the war a quarter—Hartley and 18 others—were dead.

James Henry Hartley was born in Rawtenstall, Lancashire in the last quarter of 1879, one of the nine children of William and Catherine Hartley.[1] His father hailed from Todmorden in West Yorkshire and his mother was Irish, from County Meath. Most of the family worked in the local cotton mills but James and his brother Lewis were quarrymen, like their father.

By 1901 his father had died and on 13 April that year James married Ellen Kelshaw at St John’s Church, Cloughfold.[2] The couple had four children: Florence, Margaret, William, and Mary.[3]

James Hartley enlisted at Darwen in Lancashire in October 1915 for service with The King’s (Liverpool Regiment). He was allocated the regimental number 31992.

The stalemate of trench warfare resulted in many changes to the organisation and training of the British Army. One of the most significant organisational changes in the early years of the war was the formation of the Machine Gun Corps. Until then medium machine guns—primarily the water-cooled, .303-inch Vickers—had been manned by machine gunners in each infantry battalion. It was recognised that better use could be made of these weapons by organising them into companies controlled at Brigade level. On 14 October 1915 the establishment of the Machine Gun Corps was authorised and it began recruiting in England from both trained soldiers in depot battalions and new volunteers. In the British Expeditionary Force, infantry battalion machine gun sections were reorganised as brigade machine gun companies.

The first three companies that were formed at the Machine Gun Corps depot at Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire were designated 44th, 45th and 46th Companies in December 1915 and the men that formed them were issued the first Machine Gun Corps regimental numbers, beginning at ‘3000’.

Private Hartley was one of 79 men from The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) to join the Machine Gun Corps in October or November 1915 and he was allocated the number 3389. This batch of men became the basis of 46th Company, which comprised men from Lancashire and Yorkshire, mostly from The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) and The Prince of Wale’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment).[4] 44th Company was largely made up of men from The Northamptonshire Regiment and 45th Company comprised men mostly from The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment).

46th Company was billeted at Harrowby Camp, south of Belton Park, where it trained until 7 February 1916. At 10.30am the Company marched to Grantham station and set off by train in the very early hours of the following morning for Southampton. Split between the SS Courtfield and the SS Lydia, the Company arrived at Le Havre on 9 February. The rest of the month was spent training, including a period in the trenches when the men were attached in pairs to more experienced gun teams.

From 11 February the Company had been under command 46th Brigade in 15th (Scottish) Division. It would remain in that role until the formation of the Divisional Machine Gun Battalion in March 1918.[5] From early March 1916 the Company took its turn in the line. 15th (Scottish) Division was part of I Corps in the Loos area, where it would remain until the late summer. 46th Company suffered its first casualty on 9 April when shells collapsed dugouts used by two gun teams—Sergeant Nathan Winterburn was killed and one man wounded.[6] The Company was in the line in the Hohenzollern Sector when the enemy attacked 16th (Irish) Division with gas on 27 April. The gas cloud covered part of the right flank of 15th (Scottish) Division but, fortunately, only one man in 46th Company was gassed.

A Vickers machine gun team
A Vickers machine gun team

There is no record of when Private Hartley left the Company but he must have done so some time before October 1917. By then the Company had experienced action on the Somme in August and September 1916, including the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, where its guns consolidated the captured objectives at Martinpuich. In April 1917 the Company took part in the First and Second Battles of the Scarpe, including the capture of Guémappe. The final actions that Private Hartley could have been involved in took place east of Ypres in the opening days of the Third Battle of Ypres. In all of these actions 46th Company suffered casualties,

At some time Private Hartley returned to the United Kingdom, sick or wounded, and when he had recovered he was posted to the British War Mission in the United States as a machine gun instructor, although it appears that he was suffering from emphysema. He arrived in the United States in late October 1917 and was assigned to the training team at Camp Zachary Taylor in Kentucky.

Camp Zachary Taylor, 1917
Camp Zachary Taylor, 1917

Camp Zachary Taylor was established in June 1917 near Louisville in Jefferson County, Kentucky as one of 32 cantonments built to cater for 16 National Army and 16 National Guard divisions. It was named after Major General Zachary Taylor, 12th President of the United States.

The Camp was the home of 84th Division, a National Army division, raised in August 1917 from men from Indiana, Kentucky, and part of Illinois.[7] The Division comprised 167th and 168th Infantry Brigades (each of two infantry regiments), 159th Field Artillery Brigade and the 325th, 326th, and 327th Machine Gun Battalions.

The organisation of machine gun units in a United States Division differed from that in a British division. Each infantry regiment had an organic machine gun company, the machine gun battalions assigned to each brigade each comprised four companies, and the divisional motorised machine gun battalion comprised two companies. This gave each division 14 machine gun companies, each equipped with 16 guns.

The difficulty faced by those training the new machine gunners was a lack of guns and an inability to be sure that the guns that were available were those that would be used in France. The American Expeditionary Force used a mixture of British derived and French weapons, primarily the Colt-Vickers 1915 and the Mle 1914 Hotchkiss. Training in the United States was conducted on a range of weapons, including the obsolescent M1904 Maxim.

The machine gun training team at Camp Zachary Taylor was led by Lieutenant C R Brown MC. Brown was a Scot, from Kincardine in Fife, who had served in France with the Machine Gun Corps and earned a Military Cross at the Battle of Langemarck in August 1917.[8]

Private Hartley fell ill in mid-April 1918 and was admitted to the base hospital at Camp Zachary Taylor. He died there of pneumonia, complicated by his emphysema, on 20 April. He was buried in Cave Hill National Cemetery, Louisville on 25 April, on the north-west side of the cemetery in Section E. The National Cemetery contains the graves of a little under 6,000 soldiers, mostly Union soldiers from the Civil War and veterans of that and more recent conflicts, and is located on the north-west side of the larger Cave Hill Cemetery.[9]

Cave Hill National Cemetery seen from the adjacent Cave Hill Cemetery
Cave Hill National Cemetery seen from the adjacent Cave Hill Cemetery

Private Hartley’s grave is marked by a unique private memorial that stands out amongst the uniform gravestones in the rows around it. It was erected by the ‘Officers of the United States Army Camp Zachary Taylor ’ in May 1918 and is inscribed:

APRIL 20, 1918

The grave of Private James Henry Hartley
The grave of Private James Henry Hartley

Private Hartley is also commemorated in the Book of Remembrance at Blackburn Town Hall, Lancashire. A list of those in the Book of Remembrance was published in 1929 when the town hall memorial was unveiled. The town hall memorial completed a trio of memorials in the town that included a wing at the Royal Infirmary and the town’s garden of remembrance at Corporation Park, where the memorial centres on a statue of ‘Mother England’ supporting ‘somebody’s son’ by Bertram Mackennal.

Blackburn Corporation Park Memorial
Blackburn Corporation Park Memorial

His medals group comprises the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal.

Barbara Harp for the photographs of Private Hartley’s grave.
‘Jen’ at Marble Towns for the photograph of Cave Hill National Cemetery.

1. (Back) William Hartley (c1832-NK) married Catherine Larkin (c1844-1912) in Goodshaw, Lancashire on 21 January 1860; Mary A. (c1862); William (1863-NK); Grace (1867-NK); John Thomas (c1869-NK); Sarah (c1872-NK); Lewis (1875-NK); Lawrence (1882-NK); Harriett A. (c1888-NK); and John William (c1890).
2. (Back) Elizabeth Ellen Kelshaw (5 March 1882- 6 April 1972). His wife subsequently remarried James Nerney, a widower and neighbour in Rawtenstall. One of her new husband’s sons, Private James Nerney, was killed in action on 9 October 1917 during the Battle of Poelcapelle while serving with 2/4th Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment in 198th (East Lancashire) Brigade, 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
3. (Back) Florence (1903-18 July 1919); Margaret (c1905-NK); William (c1907-NK); and Mary (1911-NK).
4. (Back) In late-1915, the establishment of a machine gun company was nine officers and 139 other ranks. Most of the men in the batch numbered from 3317-3463 served in France with 46th Company. Of this group, 29 were killed in action, died of wounds or died during the course of the war—19 were from the men of The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) who joined 46th Company with Private Hartley.
5. (Back) 15th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps comprised 44th, 45th, 46th and 225th Companies; the latter had joined 15th (Scottish) Division in July 1917.
6. (Back) 3325 Sergeant Nathan Winterburn has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.
7. (Back) Elements of 84th Division also trained at Camp Sherman, Ohio. The Division proceeded to France in early-September 1918, where it became a depot division, supplying reinforcements to other formations. It returned to the United States in January 1919.
8. (Back) Lieutenant Charles Rolland Brown MC. Born in Kincardine-on-Forth, Fife on 11 April 1891. Educated at Falkirk High School and the University of Edinburgh. He became an actuarial clerk for the North British and Mercantile Insurance Co. in Edinburgh. He joined Edinburgh University Officers’ Training Corps in November 1913 and enlisted into The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) in August 1914 (1850/Acting Lance Corporal). He served in France from 24 February 1915 with 1/9th Battalion in 81st Brigade, 27th Division until he was commissioned into The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) on 1 September 1915; he joined the 2/6th (Perthshire) Battalion at Bridge of Earn. Having volunteered for service with the Machine Gun Corps, he served in France and Flanders from October 1916 until October 1917. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 1 April 1917. He joined the British War Mission in November 1917. After the training mission returned to the United Kingdom he served at the Machine Gun Corps Training Centre at Belton Park until he left the Army. He subsequently worked as an accountant in Penang. He died in Somerset in 1974.

Lieutenant Brown was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry at on 16 August 1917 during the Battle of Langemarck (Award: London Gazette (16 October 1917). Issue 30340, p 10708. Citation: London Gazette 5 March 1918. Issue 30561, p 2907.):

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an attack. Whilst moving forward through an intense barrage he found the flank unprotected, and, despite heavy shelling, he reconnoitred the position, went to his teams, and brought them up to protect the flank. Throughout the day, first protecting his gun teams, he went out reconnoitring by himself in order that he might guard the flanks from surprise, and he gave much information to parties of our infantry. His conduct was an inspiring example to all with whom he came in contact.

9. (Back) Holt, D W. (2014). American Military Cemeteries. 2nd Edition. pp 51-52. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing.
10. (Back) From ‘The Soldier’ written by Rupert Brooke in 1914:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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