158518 Pte. James Hibbert Hicks was born 1st Apr 1881 in Bolton, Lancashire, England to parents John and Emma Hicks nee Elliot(t), (due to the premature deaths of her husbands, Emma would also become Mrs Halstead and then Mrs Ford). The 1881 UK Census, taken just a few days after his birth, shows the family were living at 12 Boundary Street, Halliwell, Bolton. He had an older brother, Ralph, aged five and a sister, Margaret, aged three. He was baptised on 20th April 1881 nearby at St Mathew's Church, Halliwell. His baptismal middle name being the family surname of his paternal grandmother. His main occupation after leaving school was that of a labourer.

Lancashire Fusiliers (Militia)

Sometime after his seventeenth birthday James enlisted at Bury, Lancashire into the 5th BN Lancashire Fusiliers. He served with the militia until 12th December 1901 and would become something of a serial army enlister.

Kings Shropshire Light Infantry

In December of 1901, aged 19yrs 10mths, he attested from the militia at Bury as Pte. 6814 of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, joining them at Shrewsbury two days later. He qualified for 1d (one penny) Good Conduct Pay on 12th December 1903 and completed his first period of engagement on 11th December 1904, continuing in the reserve until discharged on 11th December 1913. His next of kin on his extant service papers (Ref: WO 97-5111) is shown as his mother, Mrs Emma Ford of 4 Rix Street, Bolton.

On 8th July 1905 James was a 24 year old labourer living at 15 Sutcliffe Street, Bolton when he married 24 year old Betsy Greenhalgh, a cotton mill worker of 4 Rix Street, at All Souls Church. By the time of the 1911 UK Census the family had increased with children: Emma Jane (1905-07), James (1908-87) and Elsie (1910). James was a labourer in a steel works, aged 30, and they were living at 9 Crumpsall Street. Betsy's father, John, a 59 year old widower also lived with them, so too did her deceased sister's 9 year old son, Wilfred.

19th Regiment (Militia)

About 1912 James had emigrated to Canada and lived in Toronto, Ontario, and had also enlisted with the local 19th Regiment St Catherines 'Militia), rising to Corporal, no doubt due to his previous military service and experience. The facts about his militia service are borne out by their inclusion on his later attestation papers.

Betsy and their two surviving children next appear on a passenger list of the SS Virginian, of the Allan Line (ticket No: 73696), sailing from Liverpool to Quebec on 22nd October 1913, then on to Ontario to their new home in Canada, living at 56 Catherine Street, St Catherines.

81st Regiment

With the outbreak of WW1, James enlisted at St Catherines on 16th September 1915, and was assigned to the 81st Battalion. The 81st had recently been formed, on 10th July 1915, and was a holding battalion for reinforcements for field service of the Canadian Army Corps. He made the Atlantic crossing with his regiment from Halifax NS to England aboard the SS Olympic on 28th April 1916.

4th Canadian Mounted Rifles

After further training in England, on 6th June 1916 he was transferred into the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles and embarked for the continent arriving in France the following day, and joined the 4CMR in the field on 9th June 1916. The 4CMR had suffered huge losses on June 2nd, in the 'Battle for Mount Sorrel', and James was one of the 563 reinforcements that arrived in June of 1916 to rebuild the regiment, prior to seeing their first action on the Somme.

Battle of Flers-Courcelette

The Canadians had been in the Ypres sector so had missed the beginning of the Somme offensive, but come September 1916 they were to be involved in the next big push against the enemy defences. The battle of Flers-Courcelette, on the 15th September 1916, was a small portion of the advance on the enemy positions and a part of the Somme offensive. It was to involve two new innovations to assist the allied troops: firstly a creeping barrage intended to keep the enemy in their dugouts until the Canadians were upon them and thus avoid being sitting targets for their machine guns as had been the case previously, and tanks. These were being used for the first time. Able to cross the enemy lines and trenches, they were terrifying to the enemy where they got through, and on seeing them many immediately surrendered.

The enemy had suffered a heavy bombardment for several days prior to the 4CMR's attack against Courcelette, starting at 5.30pm, 15th September. They were used as a pivotal attack for a larger flanking movement that they began 30 minutes after the original attack. A special barrage was ordered for them in order to prevent casualties. They advanced on a 300 yard front (275m) in two waves: the first wave was to capture the first trench 275 yards in front, and the second wave was to push through and attack the Fabeck Graben Trench 1,000 yards (900m) further on. Some casualties were taken by their own close barrage, although eventually the attack was considered a success and a victory due to the brave actions of these troops in the advance. The overall Corps objective was not met and the Canadians suffered thousands of casualties. The 4CMR had 34 killed and 56 wounded, the figures for the missing are not known.

Killed In Action

One such casualty on this day was Pte. James Hicks, who was reported missing after this action. He was later on in 1917 presumed to have been killed in that action. However, it was not until 18th June 1923, after the discovery of his in action actual burial place, that it was finally accepted that he had been killed in action on the 15th September 1916. Like many others he had been buried on the battlefield were he was found, and only much later when the Imperial War Graves Commission were laying out the new cemeteries for the fallen was he with others discovered on that battlefield.

He was found with his identity disc still about his person and he was able to be positively identified, being eventually re-interred on 28th March 1923, at Serre Military Cemetery No. 1 at Hebuterne, were he lies in grave No. IX A 18.

His records held with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission show he was re-interred with the standard white CWGC headstone, but without any personal inscription. His wife Betsy had remarried and was now Mrs Haynes, of 48 Lloyd Street, St Catherines, Ontario. She lived until 1967.

His CWGC Index page entry contains a type error as his number reads: 158519, his other records available show his correct army number. His next of kin were later issued with the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his WW1 military services, and also the Canadian Memorial Cross.

Biography credit: Garry Farmer, with thanks.