b. 27/07/1892 bowerham Barracks, Lancaster. d. 15/08/1958 Shepherds Bush, London.
James Edgar Leach (1892-1958) was born at Bowerham Barracks, Lancaster on 27th July 1894. He was the son of James Leach, who served as a Colour Sergeant in 2nd, 1st and 3rd Battalions, The King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) from 1879-1901, including service in the West Indies, and the South African War. His father later became an agent for the Royal Liverpool Friendly Society Insurance Company. His mother was Amelia Somerfield nee Warren, a bookbinder. His parents had married on 3rd October 1893 at Lancaster. James had four brothers and a sister and was educated at Bowerham Council School from 1897-1901 and Moston Lane Municipal School, Manchester until 1907. He was then employed as an apprentice chemist.
When James enlisted with the Northamptonshire Regiment Special Reserve on 9th August 1910 he stated that he was a fishmonger and added two years onto his age. When he enlisted for Regular Service later that year, he had changed profession to a labourer and stated both his parents were dead. While at the Depot he gained 3rd and 2nd Class Education Certificates and trained as a signaller and scout. He was posted to 2nd Battalion on 4th January 1911 at Devonport and 1st Battalion on 15th March 1911. He gained his 1st Class Certificate on 31st May 1911. He was promoted to Lance Corporal later that year and was awarded an Acting Schoolmaster’s Certificate in February 1913. He was promoted to Corporal on 23rd June 1914.
He was based at Aldershot when war broke out and arrived in France on 13th August 1914. He was promoted to Sergeant shortly after the Battles on the Aisne. He was then commissioned into the Manchester Regiment on 1st October 1914 and posted to 2nd Battalion on 9th October.
On 29th October 1914 near Festubert, France, after their trench had been taken by the enemy and two attempts to recapture it had failed, Second Lieutenant Leach and Sergeant John Hogan with a party of 10 volunteers went to recover it themselves. They took the Germans by surprise with a sudden bayonet attack and then working from traverse to traverse they gradually succeeded in regaining possession, killing eight of the enemy, wounding two and taking 16 prisoners.
Leach was concussed in action on 17th November 1914 and was evacuated to England on 25th November for treatment at Lady Evelyn Mason’s Hospital for Officers in London until 11th November. Two Medical Boards found him unfit for service and he was sent on leave. Whilst on leave, he was gazetted for the VC on 22nd December 1914. He was then declared fit for home service and posted to 3rd (Reserve) Battalion at Cleethorpes on 1st January 1915. He was then presented with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 13th January 1915.
He was declared fit to return to active duty in March 1915 and returned to the Battalion in April. He was concussed just two days later and evacuated to Britain on the St Andrew. Having been treated at Taplow Priory, he was found unfit for service for two months and sent on leave. When he was found fit again, he was posted to No 1 Army School of Signalling, HQ First Army Central Force, Caius College, Cambridge. On 23rd December 1915, he married Gladys Marguerite Digby, but sadly she died the following year. James remarried on 3rd March 1917 to Josephine Butt in Cleethorpes, and they went on to have three children – James Walter Barry, Donald Anthony and Josephine Anna Wendy, born between 1918 and 1927.
Later that year, following a Lewis Gun course, a Medical Board again found James unfit for service and he spent a number of months in various hospitals including Craiglockhart in Edinburgh, where it was seen that he was suffering some kind of mental breakdown. In January 1918, he was declared permanently unfit for service and retired.
He next served with the Royal Irish Constabulary, Auxiliary Division (Black and Tans) from January 1921 to early 1922, stationed at Glengarrif, County Cork. He was then taken on by his father in law as a clerk at Grimsby fish docks whilst studying to become a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries (FICS). In 1927, he worked at the Bank of England but lost his job during the Depression of 1930-1931. He later worked for a stockbroker in the City of London.
When his father in law died in 1936, there was enough money for him to give up work and train for the Bar. He didn’t complete the training as he was cited in a divorce case at Devon Assizes with the wife of a company director. Costs of £500 were awarded against him. In the Second World War, he was appointed Lieutenant in 27th City of London (Roehampton) Battalion, Home Guard. He married a third time to Mabel Folland in Brentford in 1945.
Following the end of the War, he worked for the Danish Bacon Company and was a Conservative Councillor in Hammmersmith from 1949-1955. He died at No 4 The Lodge, Richmond Way, Shepherd’s Bush on 15th August 1958 and was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium, where his ashes were scattered in Plot 8. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, George VI Coronation Medal of 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal of 1953. Since 2010, his medals are part of the Ashcroft Collection in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: MORTLAKE CREMATORIUM, MORTLAKE, SURREY.
ASHES SCATTERED IN PLOT 8 IN GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE.
James Leach's medals including VC on Lord Ashcroft Collection website (not on display in August 2014 at IWM).