James Barker (known as Jimmy) was born in Poynton,Cheshire c.1885 to James and Mary Ann. By 1891, the family had moved to Failsworth with James senior working as a lamplighter. At this time Jimmy was the youngest in the family with him having older sisters Edith & Emma. A younger sister, Beatrice, was born in Failsworth in 1892 and then in the period between then and 1901 the Barkers moved to Royton. The census of that latter year has the family at 11 St.Pauls Street in Royton and Jimmy was now a cop packer in one of the local mills, at the time he enlisted in 1914 he was doing the same job at the Shiloh Mill.
The family suffered a loss in 1903 when Jimmy's sister Edith, who had married in 1902, died aged only 26.The family moved to Failsworth not long after that and were in Royton by the time of the 1901 census. In 1911, aged 25, Jimmy and his two surviving siblings were all still living with their parents at 72 Rochdale Road. Jimmy had moved out by 1914 and was living at 342 Oldham Road with his parents a little further away on the same road.
Jimmy enlisted shortly after the outbreak of war, in Oldham, and became a member of the freshly formed 12th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. The 12th had been created at Ladysmith Barracks, the Regiment's Depot, in Ashton under Lyne in September 1914. Jimmy sailed with his battalion, 1005 strong, out from Folkestone on July 15th 1915, reaching Boulogne the following morning. The 12th Manchesters were first shown the niceties of trench warfare by the Liverpool Scottish before going into the line on the 24th July.For the rest of the year they were in and out of the line around Ypres.
In the time leading up to Christmas 1915, Jimmy was one of the Royton men in the Battalion who co-signed an appeal to those still back home:
"It will soon be Christmas. We ask the people of Royton to give their hearts in prayer to God that He will safeguard us through the great perils and hardships which lie before us....There are many Royton boys both here and on other fronts. All single boys ought to be helping in this great fight who have sisters and mothers to protect. They should show that they are worthy of the name of man. What will our dear ones say? How proud they will be of the lads who are left behind here who have sacrificed their lives in this most honourable cause"
Shortly after Jimmy Barker was dead.Even though the battalion war diary says that there was no action on or around December 23rd Jimmy and a comrade, Private William Yates (4278) from Manchester were both killed then.
News travelled fast - presumably through a local man lucky enough to get leave over Christmas - and there was talk around Royton on December 27th & 28th that James had been killed. His parents then received a letter on the 28th from a Private Teddy Beswick:
"Dear Mr & Mrs Barker, just a few lines to let you know how Jimmy died. I was placed in a forward post about 20 yards from the enemy, and Jimmy was just on my left in the firing line. It was about 11am on the 23rd. They rushed down to tell me that he had been hit and I rushed up to the line and saw him on a stretcher and at once saw he was done for. I watched him, hoping he would speak just before he died, but he never regained consciousness. He looked so happy in death, for he had such a nice smile on his face, which made him look so happy. The platoon looked so downhearted. They were all round him, and I looked up at them all and said 'Boys we must avenge his death'. But they could not answer just then, for tears were running down all our cheeks. You see he was so well liked by all of us. he would do any of us a good turn if he could help it. I was at the funeral, his grave was dug at the back of the firing line. It was a deep grave, and Jimmy's body was put in an oil sheet and covered with sand bags. We made a cross and put it at the head of the grave. The Captain gave a splendid service. We were under fire all the time. You can rest contented that he was buried decently".
On Sunday January 2nd 1917 during a sermon at St.Paul's Church, the Reverend Humphreys referred to Jimmy and the above letter:
"On December 23rd one of those very lads who wrote that letter gave his life in that most honourable cause, for King, for country, for God. A few days before he had received the blessed sacrament in a small barn. He went back to the trenches strengthened and refreshed by that heavenly food, and now he was resting from all the cruelty, the suffering and the anguish of the war, in peace. Highly respected by his regiment and loved by his friends, he died the hero's death. The Captain buried him whilst shot and shell were flying around, and his comrades followed him to his grave, over which they had placed a wooden cross"
Although Jimmy Barker was buried by his comrades his grave was obviously later lost in the fighting and his name can be found on the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing.
Barker's inscription on the Menin Memorial.Photo from Manchester Regiment Group
JAMES WILLIAM BARKER
Date of Death:23/12/1915
Regiment: Manchester Regiment
Unit: 12th Bn
Memorial: Menin Gate
Panel Reference: Panel 53