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(I am grateful to Janet Davis for her biographical research about James Caton, and the article from the Preston Guardian)


James Caton was the eldest of seven children born to William and Jane Caton (née Hardman). William and Jane married at St. Saviour’s in Preston on 27 August 1888 and James was born the following year (1889). He was followed by Bertha (1891), William (1892), Jane (1894), Edward (1897-1899), Edmund (1902) and Ethel (1903).  James’ parents were both from Preston and after their marriage they went to live at 10 Back Bolton Street in Preston. By 1901 James and his family had moved to 94 School Lane in Bamber Bridge where his parents were both employed at Orr’s mill on School Lane, his father was an overlooker and his mother a cotton ring spinner. Twelve year old James was also a part-timer in the mill, as a cotton spinner.  By 1911 the family had moved to 10 Collins Road in Bamber Bridge. Apart from Edmund and Ethel who were both at school, James and the rest of his family were all still working in the mill.

After war was declared James re-enlisted at Preston on 5 August 1914, he had previously served with the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Regiment becoming time expired.  He was unmarried and living at home with his parents who by this time had moved to 3 St. Mary’s Road in Bamber Bridge. He was 25 years old and still working as a weaver at the School Lane Mill in Bamber Bridge.  James was issued with the service number 42 and posted to “B” Company of the 1/4th Battalion.  James went to France with the main body of the 1/4th Battalion on 4 May 1915 sailing from Folkestone on board the “SS Onward”. The strength of the Battalion was 31 Officers and 1003 other ranks.


In 1914-15, 1/4Bn came under orders of 154th Brigade in 51st (Highland) Division.    51st Division took part in the Battle of Festubert but before Festubert the Highlanders were still “practically untrained and very green in all field duties”, according to First Army commander, Sir Douglas Haig.  But shortly after this unsuccessful action the Division moved south to the area north of the River Somme. They relieved a French Division near Hamel. At this time, the Highland Division now being considered experienced, various New Army units were attached to it for instruction. Indeed, it had also begun to build a reputation as a hard, fighting formation.


In January 1916, 1/4Bn moved to what might be considered a more ‘natural’ home: 164th Brigade in 55th (West Lancashire) Division, although things didn’t start too well for James: an entry on his misconduct sheet reports that on 20 February 1916 he received 14 days Field Punishment No. 1 for “Insolence to an Officer”. Two months later on 19 April 1916 he was admitted to a Field Ambulance suffering from septic sores on his arms and legs which kept him away from his Battalion until 13 May 1916.

His previous insubordination appears not to have held back his career as the following month on 10 June 1916 he was appointed paid Lance Corporal.


Early in February 1916, the Battalion had left Airaines, the 55th Division had been detailed to relieve the 88th French Division who at the time was occupying the sector south of Arras, from Wailly to Brétencourt.  February and March were uneventful months, the sector being a fairly quiet one and casualties were few. However, there had been heavy snow followed by a thaw and the trenches had become very wet and uncomfortable. During this time in April and in May small reinforcements of Officers and men joined.


Raids were now being organised and attempted more frequently and in the middle of June a special battalion raiding party was organised and practised continually. This party was comprised of Captain E M Gregson, 2nd Lieutenants Martin, Roscoe and Walker and sixty other ranks, and on 28th June a daylight raid took place.


Extract from the 1/4th Battalion War Diary – 28 June 1916

“On the 28th a raiding party of 3 Officers and 56 other ranks left our lines at the junction of GAMBLER STREET with the fire trench at 5.35pm. The raid was preceded by cloud gas and artillery fire.  This party was working in conjunction with raiding parties from all Battalions in the Division. They advanced by two rushes to within a few yards of the enemy trenches, where they came under heavy fire and were held up. At 5.50pm they established communication with our lines and reported that they could get no further and were suffering heavy casualties. A Sergeant returned and reported that the enemy were in strong force and further progress was impossible. Major Crump ordered them to retire, which they did in good order in spite of losses which included the whole of the leaders”.


In the raiding party ten men were killed including Lance Corporal James Caton.  He was 28 years old.  Captain Gregson also died while 2nd Lieutenants Martin and Walker along with 17 other ranks were wounded.


The Preston Guardian later published the article above.  Of the men who died that day, James is the only one whose body was recovered and he was buried in Le Fermont Military Cemetery, Rivière, Pas de Calais, France. The other men were never found and their names are recorded on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.


Rank: Lance Corporal
Service No: 42
Date of Death: 28/06/1916
Age: 28
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st/4th Bn.

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