Rifleman James Spooner

Thank you to Westcott Local History Group for allowing Dorking Museum to publish their First World War research, and thank you to Lenka Cathersides for the additional research.

James Spooner was born in the 2nd quarter of 1895 in Dorking to Alfred and Ann Spooner nee Spencer. He was baptised on the 2nd of June 1895 in Westcott, where the family lived.

James’ father Alfred Spooner was born about 1866 in Dorking to Susan Spooner, born about 1828 in Dorking. Alfred’s father was a gardener. At the time of the 1891 Census, Alfred was lodging with Charles Randall at Redford Farm, Walliswood, Surrey. Alfred was working as an agricultural labourer.

James’ mother Ann Spencer was born in the 3rd quarter of 1869 in Abinger, Surrey to farmer James Spencer, born about 1843 in Wotton, Surrey and Ellen Spencer, born about 1845 in Warnham, Sussex.

Alfred and Ann married, by Banns, on the 13th of June 1892 at St John the Baptist’s Church in Okewood, Surrey. At the time of their marriage Alfred lived in Ranmore and was working as a labourer. Ann lived in Okewood.

James Spencer had a brother: Alfred Spooner was born about 1894 in Dorking.

James Spooner 1901 Census © findmypast.co.uk

At the time of the 1901 Census, the family lived at Mill Cottage, Logmore Lane in Westcott. Alfred was working as a woodman and Ann was looking after their sons: Alfred and James.

James Spooner 1911 Census © findmypast.co.uk

At the time of the 1911 Census, the family were still living at Mill Cottage. Alfred was still working as a woodman and Ann was still at home. Of their children Alfred was working as a carpenter and James was a wood cutter. Ann stated that she had given birth to two children. The accommodation had four rooms.

James Spooner Exemption Tribunal 24th Feb 1916 © Surrey History Centre findmypast.co.uk

On the 24th of February 1916 James Spooner’s conscription was temporarily exempted for 6 months, he was still living at home with his parents at Mill Cottage. He was working as a wood feller for Lieutenant Colonel R. W. Barclay in Dorking.

James Spooner Exemption Tribunal 13th Apr 1916 © Surrey History Centre findmypast.co.uk

At a Military Service Tribunal on the 13th of April 1916 his request for exemption was refused.

James Spooner enlisted in Guildford, Surrey into the Queen’s Regiment. His regimental number was G/18178. At the time of his enlistment he lived in Logmore. Later he was transferred into the 3rd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own) Regiment. He was a Rifleman with regimental number S/31703.

He was posted to France on 5th June 1917 to join the 3rd Bn The Rifle Brigade which had served in France since October 1915, as part of the 24th Division in General Sir Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army.

In the summer and autumn of 1917 the 24th Division was involved in the Third Battle of Ypres and later in the Battle of Cambrai. During the ensuing winter the German High Command moved nearly 50 Divisions from the east, following the Russian surrender, to gain a numerical advantage in the west. Their aim was to mount a major offensive to win the war before the American forces joining the allies were fully engaged.

In early 1918 it was agreed that the British front should be extended. The understrength Fifth Army took over lines from the French Third Army around St Quentin, but the new lines were very exposed and their position was much weaker as a result. On 21st March 1918, the German launched their offensive and it was on this area that the attack was concentrated.

The offensive began with the biggest artillery barrage of the war which destroyed the British defences and cut communications to the rear. The German infantry then attacked in great strength using new stormtrooper tactics, and in thick mist overwhelmed the British positions. After desperate fighting the Fifth Army’s forward zone was captured. James Spooner’s battalion and the other units of the 24th Division were at Le Verguier, near St Quentin. The Division fought stubbornly but severe German attacks on either side of their position led to orders to evacuate.

James Spooner Pozieres Memorial Roll of Honour © CWGC.org
James Spooner Pozieres Memorial Panel Listing © CWGC.org

James Spooner was killed on the first day of the Battle of St Quentin which continued for three days and was the first of a series of battles that lasted from 21st March to 5th April. He is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial which commemorates over 14,000 members of the British forces who fell in those battles and who have no known grave. Over 600 men of The Rifle Brigade are named on the memorial, more than any other regiment. ‘St Quentin’ is one of The Rifle Brigade’s accredited battle honours.

General Gough’s Fifth Army was forced to retreat across the River Somme and was then able to establish a new line and hold it. Despite this General Gough was dismissed. Marshal Foch of the French Army was put in overall command of the allied armies for the rest of the war and this brought better command and control. The German offensive continued until July but their armies were exhausted and they were forced to give ground. By this time the Americans had joined the war and the Allied advance continued until the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918.

James Spooner Medal Roll Index Card © ancestry.co.uk
James Spooner British War Medal and Victory Medal Award Roll © ancestry.co.uk

James’ father Alfred Spooner received £8, 10s and 4d on the 7th of August 1918 and a further £7 on the 4th of June 1920 in Soldier’s Effects.

James Spooner Soldiers Effects © ancestry.co.uk

James Spooner was awarded the British War and Victory medals.

Born                          Westcott
Lived                         Westcott

Son of                       Alfred and Ann Spooner of Mill Cottage, Logmore Lane, Westcott

Regiment                   3rd Battalion. Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own)
Number                     S/31793

Date of Death             21st March 1918
Place of Death            Somme, France
Cause of Death           Killed in Action

Age                            23

Memorial                    Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France.

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