Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

James Robert Hadfield

James Robert Hadfield : Photograph of Bob by kind permission of Mr Tim Hadfield.

Photograph of Bob by kind permission of Mr Tim Hadfield.

James Robert Hadfield : (L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal

(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal

James, or Bob as he was always known, was born on the 12th September 1896 in Stretford, Manchester. His father was called Charles James and his mother was Louie Ella or 'Lella'. Bob, was their eldest child; his siblings were Reginald Charles or 'Reggie', Barbara, Louisa Leigh or 'Louie', Richard Thurston or 'Dick', John Oldham or 'Johnnie' and Sylvia Mary or 'Molly'. Barbara was born in May 1899 and died that October.

Charles was a grey cloth agent for Wade and Company. Grey cloth is untreated and unfinished cotton material that can be turned into textile items after more work. Charles will have bought and sold it on behalf of cotton mills and businesses such as dyers or printers. In 1901 the family lived at 20 Burlington Street in Altrincham, Cheshire. By 1911 they had moved to Chesham Place in nearby Bowdon. They had had one servant in 1901, a nurse for the children, but by 1911 they also employed a cook and a housemaid.

Bob went to Wadham House School on Arthog Road in nearby Hale, then later to Manchester Grammar School. Whilst he was there he spent 3 years in the school's Officer Training Corps and reached the rank of Sergeant. This organisation existed to give schoolboys experience of military life, without a requirement to join the Army afterwards. Bob obtained a Certificate 'A' from them in November 1913.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and Bob quickly applied to become an officer in the Army. It would appear that he was unwell at around this time, as his former Captain in the OTC wrote to him on the 17th advising him to get better before thinking of a commission.

By the 28th Bob was well enough to pass an Army medical. At this time he was 5 feet 5 1/2 inches tall and weighed 104 pounds. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and on the 22nd September he joined the new 13th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment as it formed in Ashton-under-Lyne.

The 13th Battalion trained in the UK at Eastbourne and Seaford in Sussex, before moving to Aldershot in May 1915. Bob was originally a member of A Company, but had been appointed Battalion Signals Officer by March. In this role he was responsible for ensuring communications between the battalion and higher headquarters were maintained. He led a Section of 16 signallers.

Bob was promoted to Lieutenant on the 31st July. He sailed to France with the rest of the battalion on the 6th September.

The 13th Battalion served in the trenches around Hebuterne, Bayonvillers and Chuignes during the month between the 11th September and the 14th October. They saw very little fighting and lost only 5 men. In late October they were informed that they would be sent to Salonika in Greece (today called Thessalonika). They arrived there on the 5th November.

The original aim of sending troops to Salonika was to support the Serbian Army, but it had been defeated before they arrived. The force was kept there anyway. Men stationed in Salonika spent most of their time building defensive positions, and did very little major fighting. The main threat they faced was not the Bulgarians or the Austrians but disease. Malaria was rampant, and other diseases would sometimes sweep through the force.

Bob reported to the 25th Casualty Clearing Station the day after he arrived in Salonika. He was suffering from jaundice so was admitted to hospital for treatment. His doctors wanted to return him to the UK but Bob refused to leave his unit. He was discharged on the 18th November.

When Bob rejoined the 13th Battalion they were hard at work digging trenches and building roads in the steep and mountainous terrain around Salonika. This work continued for the rest of 1915 and into January 1916.

Starting in late January the 13th Battalion spent a month guarding the front line. They returned to the rear on the 25th February. When Bob arrived in the camp at around 1am he was clearly in pain. After resting he was examined by the battalion's Medical Officer, who shared Bob's tent. He judged that Bob needed to have his appendix removed, so he was sent to the 28th General Hospital by ambulance. The operation was carried out that morning.

The Medical Officer felt Bob was so young and physically small that he should never have been sent to Salonika. He expected him to be sent home after he had recovered. The operation seemed to have been a success and Bob recovered well. He was able to send a telegram home on the 6th March telling his family: 'Appendix out last week: all right for ship soon'. Bob's doctors discussed moving him to the 18th General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt.

Before he could leave Salonika Bob began to show symptoms of an obstruction in his intestine. After 36 hours his condition had worsened to the point that another operation had to be performed. This did not help and Bob grew weaker. He died at noon on the 9th March 1916. He was 19 years old.

It was determined that the obstruction in Bob's intestine was caused by Meckel's Diverticulum. This is a birth defect that is rare, but usually harmless. However in Bob's weakened state, following his attack of jaundice and his appendectomy, it had proven too much for him.

Bob was buried at 3pm the next day in Lembet Road Military Cemetery. Members of C Company and the 13th Battalion Signal Section attended, despite the pouring rain and the need to make a 12 mile walk from their camp. Bob had been a popular and highly respected officer, and many of his men wrote to his family telling them this.

Private 5182 Harry Young was Bob's batman, or servant. He had been with him the entire time he was in hospital, and was there when he died. He wrote to the Hadfield family on the 13th March telling them that 'I feel the loss of your son greatly, for throughout our campaign in France and Greece I have always found him a dear friend and gentleman'.

Harry had packed up Bob's kit for the hospital to send on. There was 1 bundle of letters, a purse, a cheque book, 1 book with the title 'Wallet of Wit', a fountain pen, a writing wallet, 4 Serbian coins and a silver wristwatch engraved 'J.R.H. Manchester 1914'

The Commanding Officer of the 13th Battalion felt his loss keenly. Bob was 'a very keen, energetic and able young officer and in fact we cannot replace him in his special work'. The Officer Commanding A Company remembered that 'the whole battalion liked him, partly perhaps because of his youth but mainly for his cheery good spirits'. He was one of their first casualties in Salonika.

The family were informed of Bob's death in a telegram that reached them on the 12th March. As the news spread many people who had known Bob before he joined the Army contacted his family to express their sympathy. A memorial service was held on the 16th March at Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel in Altrincham. Reverend Dendy Agate had baptised Bob when he was a baby, and now he led the memorial service. As he said:

'Fine testimony has already been borne by many well qualified to judge, at the Grammar School and elsewhere, to the brightness of mind, the warmth of heart, the ready helpfulness, the zest in life, the high sense of duty and honour which marked him. He was 'a most noble example of British boyhood' writes one master. 'I am proud to have known him' writes another. In the Army 'he was beloved by all ranks' and was recognised, young as he was, as 'possessing in a marked degree all the qualities of leadership'.

Notices announcing Bob's death had been published in many local newspapers, and his memorial service was also reported on.

Charles was killed in a tram accident on Portland Street in Manchester on the 21st June 1916. We know that his son's death had affected him deeply and that he had been depressed. Soon afterwards Lella and her children left Bowdon and moved to a smaller house at 5 Park Road in Hale.

Reggie followed his elder brother into the Manchester Regiment. He went to France as a Second Lieutenant on the 26th May 1917, although we don't know which battalion he served with. He survived the war.

Bob is now one of 1648 British and Commonwealth soldiers buried at Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemetery in Greece. His modern grave reference is 0. 2. Bob's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in February 2009. As well as his 1914-15 Star and British War Medal, Bob was also awarded the Allied Victory Medal for his war service.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council