Private James William Britton

 

James William Britton was born on 11 April 1877 at Tullyholvin, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, first child of farmer and ex-RIC sergeant James Britton and his wife Eliza Anne (formerly Buchannan).

His father died in 1890 and his 35 year-old mother the following year with consumption, leaving five young children. Britton married Margaret Jane Reid at Boho on 13 February 1908 and by 1911 they were farming at Moylehid, Lisbofin, County Fermanagh.

On 2 October 1914 he was one of the first to enlist in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron at Enniskillen (No.UD/6).

The squadron embarked for France in October 1915 as divisional cavalry to the 36th (Ulster) Division. Britton initially remained at Enniskillen, but joined the squadron in the field in the early months of 1916.

In June 1916 the squadron joined with C and F Squadrons of the North Irish Horse to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment.

On 5 July 1916, while on salvage duty at Aveluy Wood on the Somme front, Britton and a number of others were wounded during a heavy artillery bombardment. The regimental war diary for the day reads:

Orders were received from A.P.M. 36th Division at 9 am for the two troops dismounted to report to Capt O'Neill at Lancashire Dump for salvage duty. They carried out this duty bringing in equipment, rifles etc till 1 pm. The men had dinner and were just turning out again when Lieut Seymour received orders from 36th Division to return to Regtl Head Quarters. The men had just started to saddle up when a heavy bombardment of both high explosive, shrapnel & machine guns was concentrated on the Wood. The intensity of the fire necessitated Lt Seymour giving orders for the men to take shelter in some old dugouts & trenches close by. The bombardment lasted for 3/4 of an hour & then slackened but did not entirely stop. Up to now one horse was killed & four wounded. The men were then ordered to saddle up & lead their horses thro' Wood out on to the road and were waiting for the others to join up when the bombardment opened much heavier than previously especially on that part of the road where the men were waiting. Lt Seymour moved off up the road leaving 2/Lt Matthews & Sergt McIlvoy to round up the stragglers in the wood, as by this time horses were very restive and almost unmanagable. Lt Seymour with his party had reached about 1 mile along the road & turned down a lane leaving the horses in charge of Sergt Quinn. Almost immediately a heavy fire was brought to bear on the horses and Sergt Quinn was wounded. The horses stampeded in every direction, some back to Aveluy Wood. Eventually Lt Seymour was able to round up most of this party & got to Senlis. Lieut Matthews & Sergt McIlroy remained behind. Our losses numbered 16 horses killed or wounded and 2 missing. 2/Lt Matthews was wounded severely in the knee from high explosive and Pte Downes, Nicholl, Gourley wounded (hosp) and Ptes Buchanan, 195 Campbell, Potton [sic - Britton], 105 Craig, Cpl Dickson, 209 Robinson slightly wounded (duty).

In September 1917 the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment was dismounted and most of its officers and men transferred to the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers. Britton was part of a party of 70 men who were ordered to travel to Egypt with the regiment's horses to hand them over to the troops there. On their return they were trained as infantrymen, joining the 9th Battalion at Ruyaulcourt on the Cambrai front on 6 October 1917. Britton was issued number 41601 and posted to C Company.

The 9th Battalion was on the front near St Quentin on 21 March 1918 when the German Spring Offensive commenced. Over the next week they beat a fighting retreat to near Amiens, sustaining many casualties and many more captured.

Britton was initially listed as missing. He had been captured (unwounded) at Erches, near Roye on 27 March. He remained a prisoner for the remainder of the war, being held at Bohain, France, then Giessen and Limburg in Germany.

He was released soon after the Armistice and arrived at Dover on 2 December 1918, before returning to Ireland for demobilisation.