James John Finnigan


Private 12/1474, 12th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Died 1st July 1916 aged 24

Buried Queens Cemetery, Puisieux, France

Son of John and Mary Ellen Finnigan

Lived 30, Kaye Street, Heckmondwike

James was born in Liverpool on 6 August 1892. His parents were John and Mary Ellen Finnigan (née Kennedy), and he was the brother of Patrick, born 10 October 1888. James was baptised on 11 August 1892 at the Church of Our Lady of Reconciliation De La Salette on Eldon Street, Liverpool and the family lived in the densely populated area near the Church, just to the north of the city centre and a short distance from the docks and wharves of Liverpool.

Sadly John Finnigan died in 1893, leaving Mrs Finnigan to care for her two sons. Life would have been hard for Mrs Finnigan and records suggest that she found it difficult to care for her family. On 18 October 1897 her two sons appeared before a magistrate, W J Stewart. Using the language of the records, both boys had committed the offence of non-attendance at school and were committed to the Refuge and Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys, St Anne Street, Liverpool until they reached the age of 16. Patrick was 9 years old; James was 5 years and 3 months. At this time Mrs Finnigan worked as a Mill Hand and lived in Buckingham Street Liverpool.

On 29th June 1900 Mrs Finnigan married Thomas Clinch at St Titus Church Liverpool and their address was Hornby Street, Liverpool. They had a daughter, Sarah Ann, born in 1905. On 25th June 1904 Patrick was released on licence from the School and went to work for a Doctor O’Hagan and was discharged from the School on 9th October 1904. James was released to the care of his mother on 5th August 1908. In 1910 Patrick married Mary Fitz-Patrick and their address was Burlington Street, Liverpool.

At some point before 1911 James moved to West Yorkshire to stay as a lodger with Wilford Atack at William Street, Liversedge. James worked as a Colliery Underground Labourer. At the outbreak of the War the West Yorkshire Coalowners Association was authorised by the War Office to raise a Battalion which became the 12th (Pioneers) Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. We do not know exactly when James enlisted in Dewsbury but the records suggest it was early in the war. The Battalion camped and trained in Otley and Ripon before moving to Fovant near Salisbury in October 1915.

On 5th December 1915 the bulk of the Battalion, including James, left Dinton Station, Wiltshire, by train for Liverpool, then marched through the city to the docks. We do not know if James was able to see his Liverpool family before he boarded the troopship Empress of Britain, but that would be his last opportunity to do so. The ship sailed for Egypt on 7th December 1915 at 10am. The voyage through the Mediterranean was eventful: the Empress was in collision with a smaller French ship which quickly sank, with the loss of two lives. Off Cyprus shells were fired at two German submarines which were tracking the unescorted Empress. Throughout the journey all the soldiers were not allowed to wear their boots on deck – the crew were concerned about damage to the woodwork.

James and his Battalion disembarked in Port Said, Egypt on 22nd December 1915. Setting foot on Egyptian soil before the New Year earned James and his comrades the coveted 1915 Star. For the next two months they were involved in rail track laying and a variety of defence work preparations in the Suez Canal area. The stay in Egypt was shorter than expected and lasted until 2nd March 1916 when the Battalion had to make the return journey across the Mediterranean on the troopship Llandovery Castle, this time to Marseilles on their way to the Western Front. They arrived in Marseille on 8th March and left by train the following day for Pont Rémy, a village in the Somme Valley near Abbeville, where they left the train on 11 March 1916. Much of the next 3 months was spent near to the front lines around Bus-lès-Artois as preparations were made for the Somme offensive.

The first day of the Somme battle was Saturday 1 July 1916 and James’ battalion was part of the 31st Division which contained many of the northern ‘Pals’ battalions from places such as Accrington, Barnsley, Leeds and Bradford. Much has been written in great detail about the attack by 31st Division on the Serre village sector of the German lines but the Battalion War Diary has just three short lines: ‘Battalion reported present at assembly point at 5.50am. Battalion reassembled at assembly posts at 4.30 pm. Approximate casualty list 197 all ranks’.

James Finnigan was killed that day though initially he was posted as missing and his name appears in the daily list published in The Times newspaper for 17 August 1916. Meanwhile his brother Patrick had enlisted on 29th April 1915 in the South Lancashire Regiment but had been medically discharged with a potentially serious medical condition a few weeks later. It was Patrick who arranged for an item in the Liverpool Echo of 27 November 1916 in which Patrick appealed to other soldiers for any news of his brother ‘missing since July’.

York Infantry Records Office shows James’ death as occurring ‘on or since 1/7/16. Death presumed.’ On 16 September 1918 the Records Office sent Mrs Clinch the outstanding balance of pay and allowances of £3 3s 6d then on 23rd October 1919 Mrs Clinch received what appears to be an unusually low War Grant of £3 10s. In 1919/20 the Imperial War Graves Commission arranged for headstones to be placed in Queens Cemetery Puisieux, which lies near the old Somme front line. Relatives were asked if they wished for an epitaph to be carved onto the headstones. That would have been important to Mrs Clinch and she asked for the words “In loving memory of my beloved son, on his soul sweet Jesus have mercy” which now appear on the headstone. It was the practice at that time for the Graves Commission to invite the family to contribute towards the cost of any headstone inscription beyond the basic details. The cost would be 3½d for each of Mrs Clinch’s 56 letters. The records are incomplete but it seems possible and understandable that Mrs Clinch, now widowed for a second time, could not make that contribution, though the records which do still exist suggest that might have been so.

James was awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He is listed in the Heckmondwike Memorial Book as living at 30, Kaye Street, Heckmondwike. Robert Farrell a fellow inmate at the Liverpool Boys Refuge is shown at the same address and he was killed in 1918.{JG-ex3}

The Society thanks The War Graves Photographic Project (www.twgpp.org) for providing this headstone photograph.

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