Private James Hinchliffe

James Hinchliffe came from a long line of file makers. His grandfather Benjamin lived for much of his working life in one of the cottages at the bottom of Tom Lane and as each of his sons reached working age they followed their father in the same trade. It is possible that this family of filesmiths worked at Shepherd Wheel although at the time there were other locations in the area. At least two of his sons, Joshua and Benjamin, died at a young age which may well have been from one of the industrial diseases that plagued metalworkers.

James’ father, also James was born in 1845 and married Sarah Hague in 1869. By 1871 they were living on Darwin Lane, along with their first child Arthur. James told the enumerator in that year that he was a file forger.  Children arrived in the family every two years, James, who was born in 1884, being the eighth of 10. By this time, the family was in Hollin View on Crimicar Lane and later they moved into one of the cottages on Chorley Road or Church Street as it was then known. James was an acomplished gardener, winning prizes at local shows for many years.  By 1901, he had stopped producing files and was employed looking after the gardens if some of the larger houses in the neighbourhood. James died in 1909.

In 1901, aged 17, James was noted as being a mason’s labourer. Wanting a more exciting life, in January 1905 he enlisted with the Coldstram Guards  for three years. He was awarded a Good Conduct badge in 1907 and transferred to the reserves exactly three years after he enlisted. His experience in the army enabled him to secure employment as a police constable in Rotherham.

On at least two occasions he was assaulted whilst on duty at Rotherham, he was assaulted by people who he was attempting to arrest. In July 1909 he attended a domestic disturbance at the lodgings of Samuel who was intoxicated and Alice Clarke. Their quarreling attracted a crowd of 300 people. At one point Alice seized James by his coat collar and Samuel wighed in, kicking him two or three times. They then attacked another policeman and a ‘civillian’. Eventually the pair were restrained and appeared in court the following day when they protested their innocence. The judge disagreed and jailed Samuel for thre months whilst only cautioning Alice. A milder incident occured on Christmas day that year when Hinchliffe was again assauted whilst arresting George Salter for drunkenness. Salter was fined 7s 6d.

In June 1910, James married Lily Green. The marriage register records that they had the same address. Their first child, Ethel, was born in November that year and Hilda was born in August 1912.

When war broke out James was recalled to active service, being mobilized on 6th August, joining the 1st Battalion and embarked for France a week later. He was at the front line within a fortnight and injured not long afterwards. On his return to Rotherham, along with Private Waterman, he was feted at the local fire station where he recounted his experiences, providing an account of the war to his eager audience. Both the Sheffield INdependent and the Telegraph reported on James’ return and the welcome at the fire station. The Telegraph somewhat dismissively said that “Hinchliffe had no very thrilling story to tell.”

In the early stages of the war, the Allies were forced to retreat towards Paris. James claimed they had walked 300 miles in 13 days, surviving on bully beef and biscuits although the people in the villages they passed through gave them plenty of fruit. By 6th September he was in a trench near the town of Soissons about 100Km north east of Paris. James was kneeling when a fellow soldier jumped into the trench and landed on James’ left foot.  Unable to walk easily, James was evacuated to Netley Hospital and after a fortnight he returned to Rotherham on 14 days leave. He did not return to France and was discharged as being “no longer physically fit for war service” in September 1916.

James told his audience that the German army had big motor lorries to move its infantry but Allied artillery repeated the German advance and inflicted heavy losses. Accordingh to the Telegraph, Whitehouse, whose injuries were caused by being run over, recounted that he had been in conversation a german on the ship taking them to Netley (there were over 1000 prisoners of war on the ship.)  The soldier assured Whitehouse that it was not the german army’s regular soldiers who were commiting attrocities against women and children – it was the ‘riff-raff’ the army had had to depend on since the outbreak of war. He also siad that the army was dependent on men over 40.

Both reports were clearly edited to emphasise what a patriotic readership would want to hear and Hinchliffe and Whitehouse would have wanted to tell a positive story. But in an age when the only news media was newspapers, hearing from men who had been in action was always welome.

James died in November 1918 and was buried in Kimberworth Churchyard. His grave is not recorded by the CWGC. Lily did not marry again and in 1939 was working as a cleaner at Rotherham Town Hall as was her elder daughter Ethel.