b. 07/07/1889 Stratfield Saye, Hampshire. d. 28/06/1978 Bournemouth, Dorset
James Welch (1889-1978) was born at Stratfield Saye, near Silchester, Hampshire on 7th July 1889. His father, Daniel, was an agricultural labourer, and his mother, Martha Ellen nee Hiscock, was a general servant. They married in 1886 and had twelve children in all.
James was educated at Stratfield Saye School and was then employed as a farm labourer. He enlisted on 25th January 1908 and served with the 2nd Battalion in India. He went to France on 6th November 1914 and was wounded at Neuve Chapelle and on the Somme. During one of these occasions he was evacuated to the Woofindin Convalescent Hom, Sheffield, where he met his wife, Daisy Barnes. They were married in the latter part of 1915, and they went on to have five children – Daisy Victoria (born 1918), James Oppy (born 1920), William (born and died 1921), Margaret Ellen (born 1922), and Francis (born 1923).
James was promoted to Corporal in April 1917, but all accounts of his VC action, including his citation, refer to him as Lance Corporal, so perhaps it was a backdated promotion. On 29th April 1917 near Oppy, France, Lance-Corporal Welch entered an enemy trench and killed one man after a severe hand-to-hand struggle. Then, armed only with an empty revolver, he chased four of the enemy across the open and captured them single-handed. He handled his machine-gun with the utmost fearlessness, and more than once went into the open, exposed to heavy fire, to search for and collect ammunition and spare parts in order to keep his guns in action, which he succeeded in doing for over five hours, until wounded by a shell.
He was evacuated to Queen Mary’s Military Hospital, Whalley, Blackburn, Lancashire for treatment. The VC was presented by King George V outside Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917. He was promoted to Sergeant in August 1918 and was discharged unfit for further service on 11th April 1919. He was awarded Silver War Badge on 18th April.
He settled in Sheffield and worked as a property repairer and later for CH Lea’s (Sheffield Cardboard Box Company). The family lived at 188 Western Road in Crookes. During the Second World War, he served as a Sergeant in B Flight, 939 (West Riding) Balloon Squadron RAAF in Sheffield and at one time led a small team travelling the city to pinpoint unexploded bombs for bomb disposal teams. He worked as a foreman at Joseph Pickering & Sons Ltd, cardboard box manufacturers, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
James and Daisy moved to Bournemouth, Hampshire in 1960. He died at his home, 80 Pinehurst Park, West Moors on 28th June 1978. He was cremated at Bournemouth Crematorium, and his ashes were interred in his wife’s grave in North Cemetery, Bournemouth. His wife had died exactly 10 years previously to James. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977. The VC was purchased for £9,000 by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Regiment in 1979. It is now held by The Rifles (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum, The Wardrobe, Salisbury, Wiltshire. The Jubilee Medal was not with the group when presented to the Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: GLOUCS/BERKS/WILTS RGT, SALISBURY, WILTSHIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: BOURNEMOUTH CREMATORIUM, BOURNEMOUTH, DORSET.
James Welch VC was cremated and ashes interred at Bournemouth Crematorium and North Cemetery with his wife Daisy.
James Welch's medals at the Royal Berks/Gloucs/Wilts Regimental Museum, Salisbury (Picture - Thomas Stewart).
War Illustrated, 6th October 1917
War Illustrated, 11th August 1917