Private James Pidgeon

Regiment: North Staffordshire Regiment.
Service No.: 43264 (formerly: 1734, 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment)
Date and place of birth: 2nd qtr 1877 in Harting Combe, Rogate
Date and place of death: 25 January 1920 (aged 42) at Royal West Sussex Hospital, Chichester

James Pidgeon is a bit of a puzzle, as his name appears to be spelt incorrectly on the Trotton war memorial and he died after the war of cancer in hospital in Chichester. To add to the confusion, his gravestone gives his age at death as only 17.

Family background

James Pidgeon was born at Harting Combe, a few miles north of Rogate in the spring of 1877. His mother was Lydia Annie Pidgeon (1859–1916) and his father is unknown. Lydia had been born in the Edmonton area of north London but moved to Rogate with her parents when she was a child. Her father, James, had worked in London as a general labourer before finding work as an agricultural labourer in Sussex.

Lydia has two further children, John (born in 1884) and Susanna (born in 1889), before marrying John Stillwell in 1892, by whom she had a fourth child, Robert (born in September 1893). After her marriage, Lydia and John lived at 10 High Street, Chichester. Lydia died at Chichester in 1916.

James lived with Lydia and her parents at Harting Combe and remained with his grandparents after Lydia’s marriage. In the 1901 census, he was still living at Harting Combe employed as a domestic gardener. Ten years later, he was lodging with William and Lucy West at Love Hill, Trotton (near the present-day Keepers Arms) working as a farm labourer.

Military service

James enlisted in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment early in the war, being sent to the western front in November 1915. At some point (probably in 1916), he was transferred to the North Staffordshire Regiment.

His military service earned him the 1914–15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, known as “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”. His medal roll is marked: “Returned (1743 K.R. 1912) 8115/Adt”. Under King’s Regulation 1743, any medals that were unclaimed after ten years were sent to be broken up.

As well as his service medals, James was awarded the Silver War Badge, which was issued to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness. Whether he claimed this, is not known.

Death and commemoration

James died in the Royal West Sussex Hospital in Chichester on 25 January 1920. His death certificate records the causes of death as “Cancer of Rectum; 2 years 3 months” and “Toxaemia”.

The death certificate also gives his address as Mill Cottage, Terwick and his occupation as “General Labourer, Ex-Army”.

James Pidgeon was buried with full military honours on Friday 30 January at Portfield Cemetery. The cortege was met at the hospital by a firing party from the nearby Royal Sussex Regiment barracks, accompanied by about 60 discharged soldiers. The funeral procession travelled by way of North Street and East Street to St Pancras and on to the cemetery, where his internment was accompanied by the firing of the customary three volleys, followed by a bugle sounding the Last Post.

As the cause of his death was not attributed to his military service, he is not shown on the publicly accessible register maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, although he is buried with a group of war graves and has what appears to be a normal CWGC headstone. (He is classified as a ‘Non-World War Grave in CWGC Care’.)

For some unknown reason, his headstone gives his age incorrectly as 17. This error has been pointed out to the CWGC, who will correct the error in due course. On the Trotton war memorial, his name is spelt as James Pidgen.

Other family members

His half-brothers, John and Robert both died in 1966. Robert Stilwell served with the Royal Sussex Regiment during the war, being wounded in action in July 1916, spending four months at a dressing station at Etaples, before returning to the front line in November.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project