Sunday, 5 July 2009

2715 Pte James Arthur Eastburn MM, 8th Battalion (Leeds Rifles), West Yorkshire Regiment


Like Alf Worrell, James Eastburn was another Chelsea Pensioner who I interviewed in January 1982. The men's time was short and so I only recorded brief interviews with all of them.

James Eastburn was born in 1896, his birth registered in the December quarter of that year. The 1901 census shows him living at 63 Wordsworth Street, Headingley, Leeds. Although we didn't go into details about precisely when he joined up, his four digit number indicates a joining date of between the 15th and 19th of October 1914. He was later re-numbered 305709 and then again, 88009. He first set foot on French soil on 16th April 1915 and finished the war with the rank of sergeant and a Military Medal to pin on his chest. He died in July 1990 aged 93.


When I reached the age of eighteen with the other volunteers, I was embodied for four years on a gratuity. Easy, I’m in! But I still wasn’t eighteen so I couldn’t move out the camp. We were issued with make believe uniform; we wore our own clothing and had a clothing allowance and boot allowance; it was a good scheme. Boots were in short supply so you had to wear your own and you got five bob a week for that. There was nothing that they had in the place that fitted me. I only got a green four inch felt armlet and that was the only uniform so I got full clothing allowance. It was a good thing. Well, it was money in those days but I was on the roll, I was already there.

Well, when I was actually eighteen, I was embodied full time with the Territorial Army. This is in Leeds by the way; the Leeds Rifles. I must mention in passing it was the famous 8th Battalion Leeds Rifles. The whole battalion were later awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palmes by the French Government – the whole battalion and we wore the ribbon proudly on our shoulders. But that’s in passing.

I was trained and equipped and I was part of the 49th West Riding Division. The whole division moved out - the first complete Territorial Division – on the 15th April 1915. It landed in France smack into an uproar. That was the debacle at Neuve Chappelle where they wiped out the Indian Division – the Lahore Cavalry and the Ghurkas – at Neuve Chappelle and that salient there. Well, that was my blooding.

We were in hostilities wherever they happened. We were hurriedly moved up from the Aubers Ridge Salient up to the Ypres Salient. The Germans had launched their first gas attack at Hooge striving to drive a gap between the Canadians and the French and almost succeeded. We formed a wedge and buttress round them and stuck it throughout the whole of the winter in the Ypres salient, backs to the Yser canal and you couldn’t dig more than two feet before striking water, and that was a hell of a winter.

Now then, from there, I was a lance-corporal in the battalion scouts. That’s the forerunner of the now intelligence section and we wore the fleur de lys cap badge, Baden-Powell’s boy scout thing, to distinguish us.

Anyway, I left there to move down to the beginning of the Somme build up and I went down in February ’16 to take over from the French who were then holding the line. And the French were all ancient conscripts with the long blue coat turned back showing the red lapel and they were at home, they’d dug a city in the chalk and it was still winter time, covered with snow and it was cosy.

Well I took over the emplacement and eventually, what was left of the brigade and division moved down and took over. The Germans sensed it and hotted up their fire. They’d anything between six to ten more artillery power than we had and it was building.

My own escapade, if you want it, how I came to get the MM, I went out on patrol with the departing French and apparently they crept out in the snow from two points and met their German opposite number and fraternised and it was “Peace be with us” and then they departed and so on. But I spotted all this and when they moved out I had it all mapped. And with the bombers’ section and volunteers plus me, we carried out a patrol. And instead of a peaceful fraternising reception, we wiped the two patrols out. End.

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