Eastleach War Memorial – James Curtis

James Curtis, the son of William and Annie Curtis, was born in Buscot in late spring 1884 and baptised in Buscot Church on 22nd June. His father was a labourer. From his later military records it appears that as a child he had needed a tracheotomy as a result of contracting diphtheria, a common disease at the time. Other than that, he has been difficult to trace until he appears, aged twenty-seven, in the 1911 census for Eastleach Turville where he is recorded as a farm labourer. He married Elizabeth Ann Cox, who had been born in Eastleach in1885, on 7th October 1905 in Eastleach Martin Parish Church, now known as Bouthrop Church. In 1901 Elizabeth had been living with her family in Eastleach Martin and was working as a domestic servant. By 1911 James and Elizabeth had a son, James William, who had been born on 1st July 1906 at Thornhill on the Fairford to Lechlade road. 

It seems that James enlisted in Cirencester and signed up on 1st March 1915 when he was just over thirty years old. He joined the Gloucestershire Regiment as Private 013473. It was somewhat of a surprise to find that his death was not recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web-site which had already yielded so much information on others recorded on the war memorial. However, perseverance resulted in eventually finding his war service and pension records which revealed a far from straightforward story.

James had signed up for Short Service (for the duration of the war) and in his Attestation had claimed that he had previously served with the 4th Gloucestershire Regiment, a territorial unit.  By 13th July1915 he was sailing from Southampton to France with 2nd Gloucesters, reaching the front on 11th August, although they saw little in the way of action. On 25th November 1915, he was embarking at Marseilles, arriving in Salonika on12th December. On 20th June 1916 he reported sick in Salonika with dizziness, nose bleeding and palpitations. It was here that his tracheotomy wound was noted. He was diagnosed with heart disease, the result of the strain and exposure during active service. It is stated that the damage was permanent. By 10th July he was a patient in a military hospital in Malta, leaving on M.S Valdivia on 22nd July for England.  He was discharged on 27th September 1916 at Warwick, having fulfilled one year and two hundred and twelve days service. On his discharge papers he is described as being five feet eight inches tall, with blue eyes and light brown hair.  He was considered to be no longer physically fit for war service, his military character had been good and his conduct during service had been very good. He gave his intended place of residence as Eastleach and was awarded an incapacity pension of 25 shillings a week. By 23rd January 1917 a Medical Board reported his “total incapacity for three months”.

It would appear that James did come home to Eastleach as an invalid but the damage was indeed permanent and his death was registered towards the end of 1917. By this time he was thirty-two years old and his son, James William, would only have been eleven. According to the Eastleach Turville Parish Burial Register, his father was buried in EastleachTurville on 26th October 1917 eight months after Hubert Williams but, unlike Hubert, he appears not to have had a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. He is described in the register as an invalided soldier late 2nd Glos.Regiment.

This seemed to be the end of the trail. However, very near Hubert’s grave, there are two identical stone blocks set side by side. One is inscribed “J.C. Dad” and the other “E.C. Mother” so I deduced that there was every possibility that these were the graves of James and his wife Elizabeth, perhaps placed there by their son on his mother’s death. The stones appeared to be of a similar age which set me thinking. Further research revealed in the death registers for Northleach Registration District, which covers Eastleach, the death of an Elizabeth A. Curtis, aged thirty-four, recorded in the last quarter of 1920. It is highly probable that she was James’ wife. So James William would have been orphaned at fourteen. When the 1921 census is released it may be possible to establish if he was taken under the wing of Elizabeth’s family, the Coxes. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.

There is also a James Curtis remembered on Fairford war memorial but a Fairford Historical Society research paper records that there is no information available on him.