Capt James Edgar Leach VC

A detailed account of his life is on The Tameside Citizen

1892 Jul 27. Born at Bowerham Barracks. Lancaster. His father was a Colour-Sergeant in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment and had married Amelia Summerfield in 1891. His father was away on active service with the 4th Militia Battalion King’s Own in South Africa when he was born. The battalion returned to England in late July 1901

1897 Jul . Entered school at Bowerham Council School

1901 census at Lancaster Barracks

1901 Jul. Left Bowerham Council School

1901 Aug20. The family moved to Manchester, and he started at Moston Lane Municipal School, leaving in 1907

1907 The family moved to Leicester. His brothers William and Robert were also educated at this school. His headmaster at the time, Albert Mercer, later described him as having been ‘a quiet gentlemanly boy, never in a scrape’.

1910 Aug. Leach enlisted at Northampton in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment on a six year engagement. On his enlistment papers Leach gave his trade as fishmonger.

1910Dec 22. He enlisted in the regular army on a seven years engagement with the Colours and five in the Reserve, reporting at the Regimental Depot of the Northamptonshires two days later. This seems to have been a common path into the Regular Army, a few months with a Militia Regt, then in as a Regular.

1911 Jan Posted to 2nd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment

1911 Mar 15. Posted to 1st Battalion.

1911 census A private in 1st Northamptonshire Regt at South Raglan Barracks, Devonport

1911 Nov. Appointed L/Cpl.

1913 Feb . Awarded the Acting School Masters Certificate.

1914 Jun Promoted Cpl. His military employment sheet for March and April 1914 show him as being ‘clean, sober, reliable, hardworking. Trained as battalion scout, has a schoolmaster’s certificate and is employed as a signaller’.

1914 Aug. War declared. Corporal (9265) Leach J was serving with the 1st Battalion in Aldershot.

1914 Aug 13. Landed in France. The Northamptonshires were part of 2nd Brigade in 1st Division

1914 Sep 10. The battalion, acting as part of the advanced guard for the Division, moved forward to Courchamps and was engaged in the action at Priez. The battle of the River Aisne commenced on the 13th lasting until the 18th and it was for his bravery and distinguished conduct during the days of battle that Leach was promoted Sergeant.

1914 Oct 1. Sergeant Leach was given an immediate commissions for in the field. 2nd Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. He joined 2nd Manchesters at Dieval on 9 October.

1914 Oct 26. 1st Battalion Manchester Regiment took over trenches to the left of the 2nd Battalion. Shelling continued on the 27th. Through every hour of 28th October the German artillery continued shelling their trenches, thumping at the thin line of the 2nd Manchesters. It continued throughout the night and redoubled in intensity on the morning of the 29th. At dawn the German infantry attacked in overpowering strength against the centre and right of the Manchesters and against the Devons on their right. Soon intense hand to hand fighting took place in the front line trenches manned by ‘A’ Company. The Germans succeeded in occupying the centre forward trench in the charge of newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant James Leach; but the right forward trench, commanded by Captain Evans , repulsed the attack made on them. Leach and his men withdrew to their support trench where they gathered themselves and were able to prevent a German attempt to over-run their new position, driving the enemy back to the trench which they had just won. It was now determined to try and retake the trench occupied by the enemy. Leach accompanied by Sergeant Hogan, a veteran of the Boer War, and ten of his men who volunteered to go, went forward but the Germans, determined to hold on to what they had won, made a spirited defence and another two Manchesters went down under this hail of fire. It was certain death to go on and the Manchesters withdrew. Once again the Lieutenant, Sergeant and their volunteers went forward with great courage but the enemy were too well placed, the fire too strenuous and hot; the counter-attack failed once more.

Leach and Hogan decided to have one further attempt but this time they decided that numbers were an obstacle and meant more chance of losing lives. At about 3.30pm the two went out alone, creeping along the communication trench until they reached the forward trench. Fighting from traverse to traverse they gradually drove the Germans back in a frenzy of firing. Deaf, dazed but resolute the two brave men fought their way through the narrow confines of the trench. Leach, armed with a revolver, was able to shoot around the corner of the traverses without exposing himself whilst Hogan watched the parapet to ward off any attack from above, since it was quite possible that the Germans might climb out of the trench and attack the two from above or behind; nothing untoward happened and they advanced to the next section. Taking their stand at the next corner they repeated the manoeuvre, Leach now having to fire round the corner with his left hand. During their progress Hogan put his cap on the end of his rifle raising it above the parapet with the object of letting his comrades know how far they had progressed so that they would not fire on the area of the trench which had been retaken. All the time the Germans kept up, what Hogan later described as an inferno of bullets, and at places there was fierce hand to hand fighting between the enemy and the two Manchesters. Eventually the Germans were driven back into the left traverse and could go no further and it was at this stage that they gave up. Eight of the enemy had been killed, sixteen unwounded men and two wounded taken prisoner.In a later interview Leach described how having driven the enemy through to the last traverse he was surprised to hear a voice calling in English ‘Don’t shoot, Sir! The speaker turned out to be one of his own men who had been taken prisoner in the morning. He had been sent forward by the German officer to say that they wished to surrender. Leach made them take of their equipment and run back to the main British trench. When the two emerged from the trench neither had been wounded although Leach’s cap had been knocked to pieces and the scarf he had worn round his neck shredded. Some companies of the Bedford Regiment and Munster Fusiliers came up in support of the Manchesters, and about midnight the line of trenches had been taken over by 2nd Battalion 8th Gurkhas.

Both James Leach and John Hogan were awarded the Victoria Cross . The citation for the award reads:For conspicuous bravery near Festubert on the 29th October 1914, when after their trench had been taken by the Germans and after two attempts at recapture had failed, they voluntarily decided to recover the trench themselves, and working from traverse to traverse at close quarters with great bravery, they gradually succeeded in regaining possession, killing eight of the enemy, wounding two and making sixteen prisoner.

1914 Nov 16. The battalion took over trenches from the French to the east of Wulverghem where for the next 48 hours they were very heavily shelled. 2nd Lieutenant Leach was admitted to hospital. A newspaper report said that he had been buried by a shell.

1914 Nov 18. Leach was shown to be suffering from concussion and two days later was sent home and admitted to the Lady Evelyn Mason's Hospital for Officers at 16 Bruton Street, London.

1914 Dec 11. He was discharged and waited for a medical Board at Caxton Hall to be held on 17 December. Whilst convalescing in England he was temporarily placed on the strength of the 3rd Reserve Battalion Manchester Regiment  at Cleethorpes.

1914 Dec 11. Promotion to Lieutenant was made on 11 December 1914.

1915 Feb 12. Leach went to Manchester and visited Moston Lane School. Manchester Guardian of 13 February reported. . A Guard of Honour, composed of Boy Scouts, met him at the school and after speaking to the boys he was presented with a fountain pen subscribed to by the boys and masters. The boys were given a half-day’s holiday in his honour whilst he went on a recruiting tour of Manchester. The following day to London to receive his decoration from King George V at Buckingham Palace. Three days later he addressed an open air meeting in St Peter’s Square, Manchester.

1915 Apr 15. Leach returned to France with 2nd Manchesters, rejoining the battalion in trenches in the Ypres area where they relieved the 1st East Surreys.

1915 Apr 17 Battalion war diary records 2/Lieut J E Leach VC to hospital sick.

1915 Apr 20 Hospitalised back to UK. Following a medical board in June he was reported as being fit for light duty in the UK. Expeditionary

1915 Aug 20 Posted to the Army School of Signalling, then based in Caius College, Cambridge.

1915 Dec 23. Married in Cambridge to Gladys Marguarite Digby. The following month he and his 19 year old wife visited Lancaster where the new local hero was presented by the Lord Mayor with an illuminated address and a solid silver tea tray and service from the citizens of Lancaster. Mrs Leach was also presented with a handbag containing a gift of treasury notes. However Gladys Leach died shortly afterwards.

1917 Jan 1. Promoted temporary Captain . Posting to the 3rd Battalion at Cleethorpes about this time.

1917 Mar 3. Married at the Parish Church in Old Clee, a village between Cleethorpes and Grimsby to Josephine Pansy Butt the younger daughter of William Walter Butt, a wealthy trawler owner living at Fernlea, 47 Wellholme Road, Grimsby.

1917 Mar 24. Posted back to France , re-joining 2nd Manchesters on 15 April when the battalion returned to the trenches after three days rest and relieved the 1st East Surrey Regiment. Shortly afterwards he was sent on a Lewis Gun course and was back with the battalion on 19 June.

1917 Aug 24. Given UK leave until 2 September but at his own request this was also extended for medical examinations. Leach was declared unfit for General Service duties and remained in the UK on three months light duties. His mental health was undoubtedly proving to be of great concern and during this period he spent some time in convalescence at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh. Whilst there he was pronounced permanently unfit for service and temporarily placed on 12 months half-pay of three shillings a day.

1918 Mar. Leach was appointed Adjutant of the South West London Cadet Battalion affiliated to the 23rd London Regiment.

1918 Jun 1. The Leach’s first son, James Walter Barry Leach, was born at 118 Norfolk House Road, Streatham and it is likely that the family then moved up to Grimsby to be near his wife’s family.

1918 Jul 24. Lieutenant Colonel Myers of the Medical Headquarters New Zealand Expeditionary Force in London wrote to the War Office stating that Captain Leach VC had reported to him asking for a medical inspection prior to his next medical board and stated that this was desired by his medical board. This had been done and the report enclosed. The following day Leach applied to the War Office to be retired from the Army on account of medical unfitness.

1918 Aug. Approval was given for him to retire on retired pay on account of ill health contracted on active service. He was discharged.

1920 Dec 13 Joined ADRIC . ADRIC service no 1240. R.I.C. Reg no 81618 Posted to L Coy

He served in L,K,P,& H companys, from Cadet, Section Leader, and as 2nd class District Inspector, 

1921 Jan 8. Promoted Section Leader.

1921 Feb 14 Posted to K Coy. Promoted 2nd in Command

1921 Mar 26. Posted to P Coy. 2nd in Command

1921 Apr 1. Posted to H Coy. 2nd in Command of H company.

His wife and young son James lived for a time in police barracks at Glengarriff

1921 Apr 15/16. Leech writes a memo is addressed to "Group Commander, Headquarters Martial Law Area Companies, Auxiliary Division R.I.C., Victoria Barracks, Cork" and simply states that attached is a statement by Captain & D. I. 2 J. Leach, V.C., regarding alleged unofficial reprisals at Ballymacelligot on the night of 15/16 April 1921, as requested.

A second document is a typed statement . Over the signature it briefly states that on the night in question, at 22.30 hours, three tenders (there is no mention of number of men) performed curfew patrols in the vicinity of "LISCHAHAN bridge". That later, on instructions from C.I. Tralee, one tender and one car went to the Post Office in Tralee but when they got there the Military were already performing a raid, so the party rejoined those at the bridge. On their return they went by SPA and then performed raids in "Upper Rock Street". It concludes by stating that they returned to Barracks at approximately 02.15 on 16/4/21. On the first line of the statement is a reference to "see Intelligence Summary of this date" (a copy of which does not exist). Both these documents have the signatures of Petre who was now Coy Commander following the murder of MacKinnon the day before) and Leach.

1921 May 18. Resigned from ADRIC . Resignation "accepted on compassionate grounds"

He returned to England where his father in law employed him in a clerical capacity at the fish docks in Grimsby. Whilst there he studied and became an FCIS (Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries).

1925 May 19. A second son, Donald Anthony Leach , was born at 8 Gertrude Street, Grimsby.

Amateur theatricals appear to have been an interest of James Leach at this time and it was reported that a distinguished member of the cast of ‘A Message from Mars’ running at the Prince of Wales’ Theatre in Grimsby, was Captain Leach VC.

The Palace Theatre in Grimsby was also visited by Leach. A review by Harry Shaw in the Grimsby Telegraph of 9th June reported that:

‘One does not care to revive memories of the war – in the main, at any rate. But ‘Khaki’ the show at the Palace this week recalls the brighter side of hostilities. ‘Khaki’ carries an attraction of a somewhat unusual but appropriate kind. Sergeant Issy Smith VC appears in the cast. During the interval at the first performance last night a little ceremony took place on the stage. Mr J W Henley, secretary to the Grimsby branch of the British Legion introduced Sergeant Smith to Grimsby’s own VC – Captain Leach. It is a coincidence that the captain and the sergeant gained the decoration whilst they were both serving in the Manchester Regiment. Both VCs briefly addressed the audience, voicing thanks for the cordial reception.

1927. It appears that there were disagreements between Leach and his father in law, Walter Butt. The family left Grimsby and moved to London where Leach with his recently acquired qualifications obtained employment with the Bank of England.

1928 Nov 22. A daughter, Josephine Anne Wendy Leach, was born at 32B Grove Park Gardens, Chiswick, London .

1930/31. With the great depression jobs were cut and Leach lost his job with the Bank . He was then able to obtain employment for the next three years based in the Fanning Islands in the South Pacific as an accountant with a copra exporting company. During this time his father in law bought Mrs Leach a house at 55 Burlington Lane, Chiswick into which she and the children moved in 1932.

1934 Leach returned to England in 1934 and commenced employment with Foster and Braithwaite, a prominent firm of stockbrokers in the City of London.

1936. Walter Butt died, leaving money to his daughter in trust for her three children. The interest on this amount was considered to be quite reasonable and James Leach decided that this was an opportunity and he could now afford to give up work and read for the Bar. Accordingly he studied and successfully passed his first two law examinations. However relationships between husband and wife deteriorated and in 1937 the two separated and were divorced in 1938.

1939 James Leach worked for the Ministry of Aircraft Production but by 1943 had moved to work in the legal department of the Osram lighting factory in Hammersmith, living at 12 Sinclair Mansions, Richmond Way, Shepherd’s Bush. During this time he became an officer in the Roehampton Home Guard Battalion

He married his third wife Mabel Folland,whom he had met whilst working at Osram’s.

Post–war Leach worked for the Danish Bacon Company at Thames Street in the City of London. He became honorary secretary of the Hatfield Chamber Music Ensemble which was directed by his nephew John Leach and was a Conservative member of the Hammersmith Borough Council between 1949 and 1955. Another of his interests was the Hammersmith Association for the Blind, of which he was a founder member and treasurer.

1956 Jun 28. VC centenary celebrations were held in London. Colonel Charles Archdale of the Manchester Regt held a dinner at the Royal Empire Society. Both James Leach VC and his wife attended the dinner and after Charles Archdale had spoken about the Regiment’s pride in her VCs and commenting upon this unique occasion James Leach spoke in response. George Stringer VC was present with his sister Mrs Wrenshaw, together with close relatives of Issy Smith VC, George Henderson VC, George Evans VC and Harry Coverdale VC. Acting as hosts representing the Regiment were Lieutenant Colonel Charles Archdale, Major & Mrs John Gunning, Major Rex King-Clark, Major Jerry Perez, Major Joe Flynn and Major Robert Clutterbuck.

1958 Apr 23. James Leach attended the Manchester Regiment bi-centenary celebrations at Warley Barracks, Brentwood

1958. Aug 15. He died and the funeral took place on the 21st at St Mathew’s Church, Shepherd’s Bush followed by cremation at Golders Green where his ashes were scattered. A bearer party and bugler were provided by 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment. Also present from the Regiment were Majors Peter McEachran, John Gunning, Burrows, Lieutenants Mike Yemm and Miller together with three members of the London branch of the Regimental Association - Messrs Carling, Kemble and Stafford.