JAMES ABNER STANSFIELD
Date of Death:23/04/1917
Cemetery:Wancourt British Cemetery
Memorial:Signal Trench Memorial 13
James Abner Stansfield was born in Royton in 1884. His parents were James Coates Stansfield, a skipmaker, and Emma. James Abner was the fifth of seven children; his siblings being John, Alfred, Harry, Mary, Farrar and Abraham.
In 1891 the Stansfields were living at 9 Haggate and by 1901 had moved to 264 Middleton Road. By then James was working for his father in the skip making business. For the 1911 census, aged 26, he was still with his parents on Middleton Road and employed in the family business.
James joined the army in Royton in early 1916 and became a member of the Manchester Regiment. In the first quarter of that year he married Ethel Dyson. The specific training battalion James was a member of isn't known as also is the exact date he was sent out for active service. The 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment had been decimated on July 1st 1916, Royton man James Heywood being killed, and suffered heavy casualties again at the end of that month as the Battle of the Somme raged on. It is probable that James joined as part of a draft to replace the losses of the second bout of casualties.
By the time James joined them, the 17th would have borne almost no similarity to the unit of men raised in Manchester in the fervour of 1914. A Battalion at full complement had about 1000 men, the 17th had received 813 replacements after the fighting of July 1st and in the days after only to suffer further casualties approaching 300 strong on July 30th in an attack on Guillemont.
After spending time out of the line reorganising the 17th Manchesters went back into the line on September 8th in the Festubert sector.There then were spells in and out of the front line. On October 6th the Battalion were at Fricourt Camp ahead of a planned attack on a system of German trenches in front of the village of Flers. On October 10th they relieved other units north of Flers.
The attack on Flers and the Villages of Le Barque and Ligny Thilloy was intended to open up the way for an attack on the strategically important town of Bapaume. The town was a railhead for the Germans who brought in reinforcements,ammunition and equipment and defended the outskirts with fresh drafts of German marines, relatively fresh and unaffected by the previous months battles.
Zero hour had been set for 14:05 on October 12th and that morning the 17th took over the front line from the 16th Manchesters. B and D Companies occupied the left sector, A and C the centre. Two Companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers held the right sector. The 18th Battalion supported their comrades in the 17th Battalion. At 1.55pm an artillery barrage opened on the German lines and the men were amazed to see the defenders run from their trenches and lay in the open some fifty yards in advance of their positions. As the men left the trenches an enemy bombardment fell between the 1st and 2nd lines. The Germans ran back to their positions and a machine gun barrage was put down on the advancing 17th’s men. One NCO taking part in the attack said:
“So heavy was the machine gun barrage that I can only describe the sound of the bullets striking our parapet to the rattle of a side drum”.
As the men went over the parapet they were struck down by the barrage, not many got further than 20 yards. Each wave was swallowed up in turn as it went over. Only a few wounded managed to get back to the trenches before dark.The 18th Battalion fared no better, getting caught in the artillery barrage very few reached the 17th’s position.During the action all the Officer’s of the Battalion, with the exception of Major Whitehead and a couple of Subalterns became casualties. Company Sergeant Majors took command of the companies, CSM Ham, RSM Coates, CSM Bingham and CSM Jacques taking A, B, C and D respectively.Realising the futility of the attack the fourth wave was stopped before it went over the top by CSM Ham who had gone over with the 3rd wave and returned to the front line. The men due to have gone over the top in the last wave stood to along with some men of the 18th in anticipation of a German counter attack. The battered garrison remained in the line until late in the evening when it was relieved by the 16th Manchesters.On the left flank, B & D Companies fared little better.Although reaching their objectives they were forced to withdraw owing to the number of casualties. Attacking alongside the men of the Royal Scots Fusiliers got no further forward, and also withdrew at dusk.The attack, although gallantly carried out, had been a disaster. Very little ground was gained and the Battalions losses amounted to 12 Officers and 213 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.
The Battalion was then out of the line for a while before spending time in the Bellacourt sector which was, thankfully for the survivors of Flers and the new men brought in to replace the casualties, a very quiet one. The men were in and out of the line there until January 6th 1917 when they marched to Bavincourt and from there to Sus St.Leger. Here the 17th Manchesters carried out training until February 4th when they moved into billets at Pommern. There the men were involved in work helping with the construction of a railway that was to be used in part of the preparation for the coming Battle of Arras. On March 20th they relieved the 2nd Bedfords in the line in front of Agny. At this time the Germans were gradually falling back from the Somme to new positions at Arras and the 17th Manchesters moved forward each night attempting to keep in touch with the enemy. This continued until the men were relieved by the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers on March 23rd. They were then stationed at the Madeleine Redoubt and whilst there were shelled heavily, suffering many casualties. James Abner Stansfied and his comrades were here put to work digging communication trenches at night up to the front line.
From March 27th to April 2rd the Battalion were billeted in the tunnels at Blairville, still providing working parties under command of the Royal Engineers. They then relieved troops at the front line and on April 2nd, Arnold Wood from Royton was killed. The Battalion then spent some time in reserve before leaving St Amand at noon on 18th April 1917, arriving at the Hindenburg system of trenches near Neuville-Vitasse at 4.00am on the 19th. The following day the 17th relieved a battalion of the London Regiment in the hurriedly dug trenches in front of the villages of Heninel, and facing Cherisy. The continuance of the Arras offensive was due to start on the 23rd and prior to this the Battalion suffered heavy casualties caused by heavy shelling.
At 04:45 on the 23rd, the Battalion moved forward ready for the assault.The men spent the next few hours digging themselves in, but at 09:00, the Enemy launched a counter attack of great violence which was repulsed with great gallantry and the position maintained. At 14:00 a further attack was launched and the Battalion suffered many casualties. At midnight, the Battalion was relieved, having paid a heavy price. Out of 650 men who went into the assault, 360 Men were killed, wounded of reported missing.
James Abner Stansfield was one of the many men killed in the fighting. He was buried at the small frontline Signal Trench Cemetery. This cemetery was destroyed in later fighting and his grave was lost. He is commemorated on a memorial at the Wancourt British Cemetery.
Ethel Stansfield, back home in Royton at 6 Macauley Street received official notification in mid June that her husband was missing. This came at the time that news hit the family that James' brother Farrar had been killed in action. Confirmation that James Abner was also dead followed in July. In that month his father appealed at the Royton military tribunal to spare his James' brother Harry from conscription. James senior argued that he had lost two sons already and the other three were all on active service. The case was adjourned until January 1917 and it's not yet known what the result of that was.
On April 27th 1918 the following appeared in the Oldham Chronicle:
In loving memory of my dear husband Private James Abner Stansfield who was killed
in action at Wancourt April 23 1917
Not dead to those who loved him dear
Not lost,but gone before,
He lives with us in memory still,
and will for evermore
6 Macauley Street, Royton
Ethel moved to Blackpool shortly afterwards and was still resident there when she died in 1934 aged 50. She hadn't remarried and was buried back home in Royton. James' parents James Coates and Emma died in 1932 and 1939 respectively and are buried together in Royton.
The men killed alongside James Abner fighting off the German attacks that day were:
AIKEN JOSEPH 27 Corporal 8043 from Manchester
BAILEY ALBERT Corporal 8064 born Burslem,enlisted Manchester
BAUMBER ALFRED Private 34820 from Flixton
BIBBY AARON 34 Private 47158 from Wigan. Served as John Wilkinson
BIRD FRED 22 Serjeant 43151 from Accrington
BLAIR FREDERICK Private 47429 from Manchester
BLAKELEY FRED 22 MM Lance Corporal 8079 from Prestwich
BOOTH THOMAS 27 Private 34439 from Manchester
BRINDLEY JIM Private 43219 from Macclesfield
BURTON THOMAS Private 34826 from Manchester
CARROLL JOHN 37 Private 34955 from Manchester
COLLINSON FRANK 29 Corporal 18346 from Manchester
CUERDEN FREDERICK Private 36152 from Wigan
DUFF JOHN 36 Serjeant 18385 from Manchester
DWYER HERBERT 28 Private 34008 from Manchester
EDWARDS ALFRED 27 Private 31181 from Newbury
EFFERT CARL Private 41639 from Sussex
FARRELL JOSEPH 28 Private 47219 born Blackburn,lived Stockport
FRANCIS WILLIAM Private 41658 from Witham,Essex
GRANGE JOSEPH Private 36539 from Manchester
GRAY BERTIE Private 43297 from Birmingham
HALL ALBERT Serjeant 43305 from Watford
HALL JAMES Private 43230 from Manchester
HAMER SAMUEL 23 Private 9185 from Rochdale
HARGREAVES ROBERT Lance Corporal 43231 from Bolton
HARRIS JOHN Private 47438 from Stoke on Trent
HARVEY HARRY 29 Private 41609 from Wycombe
HILLS ERNEST 29 Private 41631 from Margate
HORN ARTHUR 28 Private 43420 from Buckinghamshire
HUDSPITH JAMES 25 Private 39531 from Leigh
JONES OWEN 24 Corporal 8201 from Manchester
KELLY HENRY Private 5193 from Manchester
KIRKHAM PERCY Private 32448 born Stockport,enlisted Ashton under Lyne
KNIGHT HERBERT 21 Private 43422 from London
LEDGER LOUIS 30 Private 8712 from Manchester
LOFTUS THOMAS 25 Private 36937 from Manchester
LOMAX JOHN Private 39979 from Hollinwood, Oldham
LOWE ROBERT Serjeant 43240 from Warrington
McLINDEN HENRY 24 Private 8738 from Bolton
MORRIS DAVID 23 Lance Corporal 43248 from St Helens
OAKENFULL FREDERICK Private 41689 from Kent
O'CONNOR FRANCIS 22 Private 43198 from Consett
PALMER WALTER 19 Second Lieutenant from Manchester
PARKER CHARLES 33 Private 34307 from Manchester
PEDLEY THOMAS Lance Corporal 47434 from Manchester
POTKIN JAMES Private 45006 from Manchester
POTTS GEOFFREY 23 Lieutenant from Preston
PRENDERGAST JOHN 26 Lance Corporal 15482 from Oldham
RAMSDEN PERCY Corporal 8834 from Whitefield
RATCLIFF DOUGLAS 25 Corporal 8844 from Manchester
RICHARDSON ROBERT 25 Private 43363 from London
RITCHIE JAMES 39 Lance Corporal 47433 from Manchester
ROBERTS VINCENT Private 30218 from Liverpool
RONALD FERGUS 25 Mentioned in Despatches Lance Corporal 8850 from Manchester
ROSTRON ERNEST Lance Corporal 34692 from Manchester
SCHOFIELD ARTHUR 28 Private 39959 from Manchester
SEABORN EDWARD Lance Corporal 27606 from Manchester
SIMISTER DOUGLAS Private 47351 born Hollinwood,lived Stalybridge
STAFFORD WILLIAM Private 45005 from Manchester
STEVENS JAMES Private 47327 from Manchester
SUTTON ALFRED 20 Private 47215 from Marple
SWALES ALFRED 25 Lance Corporal 30494 from Oldham
TAYLOR JOSEPH 44 Private 44565 from Golborne
THOMPSON GEORGE 24 Private 47442 from Manchester
THOMPSON WILFRED 20 Private 47453 from Manchester
THOMSON REGINALD 19 Private 43263 from London
TOPHILL GEORGE 21 Private 9345 from Manchester
TURNER PERCY 21 Private 11010 from Salford
TYE WALTER Serjeant 43346 from London
TYLDESLEY WILLIAM 19 Private 46598 from Tyldesley
UPTON HENRY Private 27586 born Salford,enlisted Manchester
UTTING GEORGE 19 Private 39950 from Manchester
VICKER ERNEST 34 Private 35102 from Manchester
WARD ARTHUR 21 Private 43343 from London
WEST JOHN Private 33836 born Salford,enlisted Manchester
WHALLEY WALTER 22 Private 43185 from Burnley
WHITTINGHAM GEORGE 25 Private 47346 from Manchester
WILKINSON CHARLES Lance Corporal 47365 born Middleton,enlisted Failsworth
WILLIAMS HOWELL 29 Private 39963 born Salford,lived Manchester
WITHEY JOHN Private 36200 from Manchester
WRIGHT JAMES Private 34544 from Manchester