Saturday, 30 July 2016

James Arthur Parkes, from Chorlton, the oldest Manchester soldier to die in the Great War

James Arthur Parkes was the oldest Manchester soldier to die in the Great War.

Your King and Country Thank you, date unknown
He was 64 years of age, had been born in Chorlton on Medlock and his family were living at 9 Meadow Bank in Chorlton when he died on March 29 1917.

Now given the mountain of statistics about the war it would be easy to pass this fact by.

After all in total 10,995 men from the city died during the conflict, the first being Charles Routledge of Andrew Street who died in August of 1914 and Thomas McLean Dunlop of Elvey Street who was killed on the last day of the war.*

And in between there are the depressing list of casualties which include the total killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme along with the youngest man to perish and much more.

But I was drawn to Mr Parkes because of his age which given that we think of the Great War as a young mans’ war rather marks him out as significant.

And behind that simple record is a fascinating story that begins in Chorlton on Medlock and runs out across Canada, Scotland and northern England and finishes in a family grave in Sourthern Cemetry.

I know that he was born in 1854 in Chorlton on Medlock and that he married Margaret Gowrie in 1878 in New Brunswick in Canada.

This is at least the obvious inference given that five of seven children were born there between 1879 and 1891.

He appears to have settled with his family briefly in Scotland in the April of 1881 and again a decade later in 1891.

From the Daily Mail, 1916
But was also in Canada during most of the 1880s before returning to the UK in the middle of 1891 and moving on again to Barnard Castle in County Durham in 1894 which is where the family were still residing in 1898.

Not that any of this surprises me.  This was after all one of the centuries when people were migrating to the Empire and were coming home again more frequently than we might think.

That said the clue to James’s wandering is there in his occupation.

In 1911 he described himself as a retired army officer, while in 1881 he was a  Sergeant 26th Regt and a ten years later a Quarter Master Army at the Hamilton Barracks.

Now the 26th Regiment of Foot became a Rifle Regiment and adopted the regimental name of the Cameronians in 1881 under the army reforms.**

So his postings in Canada and across Britain make sense. And with a bit more research it should be possible to match the family homes with the movement of the regiment.

All of which brings me to his death in 1917.  I had assumed it was on a battlefield but that would be stretching it given his age.

Greetings from the Front, date unknown
He was by then a Captain in the Durham Light Infantry and was buried in Southern Cemetery on April 3 1917 in a plot which was to include his wife and children.

In time I will fill in the missing bits including where they were in 1901 and his role in the Durham Light Infantry along with a cause and place of death.

All of which is for later except to say that sometimes you can be too clever.

I had thought Mr Parkes served in Canada, given that the 1911 census has his wife and some of his children listed as being  born in Glasgow and Hamiliton NB which I took to be New Brunswick but appears to have been a mistake.

Earlier census returns record Mrs Parkes and the children as being born in Scotland upon which turns a reversal of James Arthur’s time in Canada which I had confidently described in earlier stories.

Ah well not everything is as you think.

Pictures;  from the collection of David Harrop

*The First World War and the price Greater Manchester Paid, Manchester Evening News August 4 2014

**Regiments of Foot, H.L. Wilkes, 1974

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