Private James E. Taylor, 18876, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 14th Entrenching Battalion, late 7th Battalion
James Edward Taylor was born in Ossett in late 1894, the first child of William Taylor and Margaret Ann (nee Nuttall) who were both born in Rochdale, and married there in 1888.
In 1901, William and Margaret and their two sons James and 5 month old Fred are living on Station Road, Ossett where William is working as a sewing machine merchant. In 1911 the couple have moved to 22, The Green, Ossett with their son, James Edward, aged 15, and working as an office boy. William Taylor was now working as a coal merchant. The couple had four children, but only James has survived to 1911. Fred Taylor died in 1904, aged 3 years.
On the 7th February 1914, at Ossett, James Edward Taylor, a coal merchant’s assistant of Healey Road, aged 18, married 18 year old Clara Emma Graham. The couple had two children: Eleanor Taylor, born in 1914 and Donald G. Taylor, born in 1915.
James Edward Taylor’s army record has not survived. His medal card indicates that he was awarded the British, Victory and the 1914/15 Star. He embarked for France on the 7th August 1915. With the death of James Edward in 1918, William and Margaret Taylor had lost all of the four children born to them in thirty years of marriage.
The 7th (Service) Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was formed on the 12th September 1914 at Pontefract as part of K2 and came under command of 61st Brigade in 20th (Light) Division. The Battalion moved to Woking and then on to Witley in February 1915, going on to Salisbury Plain in May. On the 24th July 1915 they landed at Boulogne. On the 20th February 1918, the Battalion was disbanded and became the KOYLI 14th Entrenching Battalion, still serving in the 61st Brigade of the 20th (Light) Division.
Entrenching battalions were temporary units formed in the British Army during the First World War. Allocated at Corps level, they were used as pools of men, from which drafts of replacements could be drawn by conventional infantry battalions. The practice ceased on the Western Front by autumn 1917, due to manpower shortages, but saw a revival at the start of 1918.
The reduction in the number of battalions in an infantry brigade (from four to three) resulted in many (under-manned) infantry battalions being disbanded (including the 7th Battalion, KOYLI.) Following the disbandment of these infantry battalions in February 1918, the pool of men was used to bring the remaining battalions up to strength, and to allocate any remaining manpower surplus to twenty five entrenching battalions. These battalions were put to use in improving the existing defences in anticipation of a German offensive, and could be used as a reserve force if needed. The Entrenching Battalions were disbanded in April 1918, with their troops apportioned to infantry battalions to make good the losses suffered following Operation Michael, the German spring offensive of 1918.1
In the spring of 1918, the German Army launched a huge offensive on the Western Front with many battle-hardened troops fresh from the Eastern Front. At dawn on the 21st March, in dense fog, British troops were subjected to one of the largest artillery bombardments of the war, before being attacked by German infantry and forced to retreat. 20th (Light) Division was the reserve Division to Maxse’s XVIIIth Corps, but were ordered to the front on that day and soon all Brigades were ordered to battle stations. By 1 pm, the 20th Divisional troops were plugging potential gaps in the badly stretched forward lines between 14 Division and 36 Division, south of St. Quentin.
Private Taylor's 61st Brigade dug in across the road between Dury and Tugny-et-Pont, close to the Somme Crossings, before forming up with 12th King’s (Liverpool) Regiment to provide a defensive line. Ahead of them everything was in a state of madness and confusion. The forward lines, made up of loosely connected strongpoints, had been breached under the impact of fog, gas and artillery. The Germans used storm troop tactics, by-passing and then encircling the hapless and virtually helpless defenders. They had chosen their point of attack with maximum efficiency, where the Allied troops were least well prepared and defended.
Confusion was the norm during the next few days and any attempts to keep track of numbers involved creative mathematics rather than controlled counting. Many were wounded and taken back to dressing stations. Scores of men became detached and mixed up with other units, perhaps managing to regroup with their own days later. Scores more fell into the hands of the Germans, either wounded or forced to surrender. Unfortunately records of prisoners among the other ranks are virtually non-existent.
On the 23rd March 1918, the infantry battalions of 61st Brigade were faring badly and forced to retire, fighting all the way. Overnight the remnants of the brigade were withdrawn to Neuvilly to rejoin the rest of 20th Division, where they were re-organised into a composite battalion of four companies, with a total strength of nine junior officers and about 440 other ranks. A brigade of three battalions had been reduced to less than half a normal battalion. The relentless pace of the German attack, in conditions that made communications difficult, was taking a heavy toll. It is likely that Private James Edward Taylor was badly wounded during this period and was captured by the Germans. His body was never recovered, suggesting that he died in the field and was buried with many other British and German soldiers where he fell.
The "Ossett Observer", 2 had this obituary for James Edward Taylor:
"Ossett Soldier's Death After Being Taken Captive - Intimation has been received this week that Private James Edward Taylor (22), K.O.Y.L.I., whose wife resides at 8, Healey-road, Ossett, has lost his life in France. It appears that he was wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy, and it is officially reported that he afterwards died. The deceased, who was the only son of Mr. William Taylor, coal merchant by whom he was employed as a teamer, joined the army four years ago, and had been over two years at the front. He was formerly a member of the Boy Scouts, and was well-known locally."
Above: German storm troopers attacking British positions during Operation Michael, March 21st 1918.
Private James E. Taylor died in German captivity on the 25th March 1918, aged 22 years, from wounds received during the Spring Offensive. He is remembered at Panel 59 and 60 on the Pozieres Memorial, 3 Somme, France. Pozieres is a village 6 kilometres north-east of the town of Albert. The Memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery which is a little south-west of the village on the north side of the main road, D929, from Albert to Pozieres.
The Pozieres Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields, and the months that followed before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918.
The Memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918. The Corps and Regiments most largely represented are The Rifle Brigade with over 600 names, The Durham Light Infantry with approximately 600 names, the Machine Gun Corps with over 500, The Manchester Regiment with approximately 500 and The Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery with over 400 names.
The memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery, Plot II of which contains original burials of 1916, 1917 and 1918, carried out by fighting units and field ambulances. The remaining plots were made after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the battlefields immediately surrounding the cemetery, the majority of them of soldiers who died in the Autumn of 1916 during the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme, but a few represent the fighting in August 1918.
There are now 2,758 Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 1,380 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 23 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. There is also 1 German soldier buried here.
2. "Ossett Observer", 20th July 1918