Date of Death:24/04/1917
Regiment:Royal Army Medical Corps
Unit:50th Field Ambulance
Cemetery:Duisans British Cemetery
photo courtesy ofPeter Hastie
James O'Dea was born in Higginshaw, Oldham in 1887. He was registered as James O'Day, later the family adopted Day but then settled on O'Dea. His parents were John,a cotton warehouseman, and Margaret. John was an Irishman and Margaret originally hailed from Manchester. John & Margaret had a total of 15 children but sadly 8 didn't survive infancy. James' siblings that we currently know about were Mary Alice, Thomas ,Thomas (died in 1880,aged 2),Margaret Ann, Susannah, Joseph, Patrick (died in 1901,aged 1), John, Ann, Agnes & William.
James married Catherine McLoughlin in 1909. James was 21 at the time and Catherine, originally from Ireland, perhaps only 16. They lived together at 136 Heyside until Catherine's death in 1914 aged only 21. This was either during childbirth or shortly afterwards. James & Catherine's son, David, survived. The exact date of this tragedy is unknown but it was in the third quarter of the year, around the time the war was beginning. James went into Shaw and enlisted in the army soon after, being listed in the Oldham Chronicle of November 3rd 1914 as having joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. James' occupation at the time was 'grinder'.
James O'Dea became a member of the 50th Field Ambulance who were to be part of the medical backup for the 37th Division. They were stationed for a while in 1915 in Limerick and it was here that another local man, Leonard Taylor,died of pneumonia on June 22nd of that year. Shortly after Taylor's death, the 50th Field Ambulance headed across the Irish Sea to join the units of the 37th Division who were concentrating in the South of England ahead of their departure for France. James landed at Le Havre on July 31st 1915.
Field Ambulances were mobile front line medical units with each one having responsibility for the care of the casualties of a specific Brigade within the Division. The capacity of a Field Ambulance was 150 casualties but so often during battle the sheer number of wounded men would overwhelm the medical units. The Ambulance was responsible for establishing and operating a number of points along the casualty evacuation chain, from the Bearer Relay Posts which were behind the Regimental Aid Posts, and then down to the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) and finally the Main Dressing Station (MDS). There was usually one ADS per Brigade and then a MDS for the whole Division. At full complement a Field Ambulance would be composed of 10 officers and 224 men.
In February 1916 James would have received news that his brother Thomas had been killed. By that time his father John was also serving in France having enlisted in September 1915 into the Royal Engineers where he served as a pioneer in the 10th Labour Battalion. John had lied about his age, claiming to be 46 when he was in fact probably in his 50's. John O'Dea returned to England in March 1916.
The 37th Division's first major battle was The Battle of the Ancre, the last phase of the larger Battle of the Somme, in November 1916. After that they were pitched into combat again in the Battle of Arras in April 1917. This was a British offensive that began on April 9th 1917. There were major gains followed by stalemate and the usual massive casualties. The 37th Division fought from April 9th to 14th and then went into action again on April 23rd during the action known as the Second Battle of the Scarpe.James was mortally wounded and died in Casualty Clearing Station No.19 on April 24th. He had perhaps been injured that day or the day before. The 50th Field Ambulance's war diary mentions him at the end of April as having been one of their wounded that month, as he had passed down the casualty chain out of their hands they would have been unaware of his subsequent death.
James,unlike his brother Thomas, appears on the Royton War Memorial. They are both commemorated on Oldham's. There is no mention though after his death of James in the Oldham Chronicle. James' son David, who had been orphaned at the age of two, died in Birmingham in 1990.
The men of the 50th Field Ambulance listed as having been killed or died of their wounds on April 23rd and 24th are listed below. One, James Butterworth Seville, had enlisted in Shaw at the same time as James O'Dea and they had consecutive service numbers.
HART WILLIAM 29 Private 37461 from London
PARKER LEWIS Private 88062 from London
PITT SIDNEY 20 Private 88063 from London
SEVILLE JAMES Private 35590 from Glodwick,Oldham
TATUM HENRY Private 38967 from London
WILLIAMS WILLIAM MM,MSM Serjeant 35593 from Aberdare