Rifleman James Robert Kingston

Regiment: 12th Battalion, The London Regiment. (The Rangers).
Service No: TF/470304 (Originally 2068)
Date & place of birth: 2nd qtr 1885 in St Giles, London
Date & place of death: 11 October 1918 (aged 33) near Annay, northern France

It is not clear why James Kingston is commemorated on the Cocking war memorial, as we have yet to identify any connection with the village, but this is the only man of this name on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. He was a married man from London with one child.

Family background

James Robert Kingston was born in Central London in early 1885, the fifth child of William Kingston (1854–1940) and his wife Jane Sophie née Prior (1854–1889). William and Jane had married in May 1872; their first child, Emma, was born two years later and their four sons followed over the next 12 years. At the 1881 census, William was employed as a Picture Frame Maker, but ten years later he was a cab driver, living at Lambs Conduit Passage in Holborn, a widower with his five children.

On 27 September 1908, James married Elizabeth Emily Gardner at Christ Church in Southwark.  (Her father was described as a carman on the wedding certificate.). Their son, also James Robert, was born on 7 February 1909. In 1911, the family were living at Saville Street, off Great Portland Street, St Marylebone and James worked as a porter.

Military service

At the start of the war in August 1914, James enlisted at Chenies Street, off Tottenham Court Road, London as a territorial in 12th Battalion, The London Regiment, known as The Rangers. Originally service number 2068, this was changed to 470304 in the 1917 renumbering of the Territorial Force. For the first 2½ years of the war, the 12th Battalion was kept in reserve in England undergoing training and guarding the Home Front.

Their initial training took place in Hyde Park, but by the end of October the Battalion had taken over the Machinery Hall at White City, although field training continued in the parks around north London. According to the regimental history: “The training was greatly handicapped by the lack of any equipment. Practically no musketry could be taught until the end of December, when rifles were drawn.” “Our parade ground was a quagmire, and a small quagmire at that. Wormwood Scrubs, the nearest open space, was little better, and at least one company commander had it in mind to get himself and all his men made convicts, with a right to the asphalt of the prison yard!

In December 1914, the battalion moved to Crowborough in East Sussex for more advanced training. It was only now that the soldiers were issued with their uniform. After five months training, in May the battalion moved to the east coast with the 58th Division, where it formed part of the defensive force, and the 2nd Rangers were billeted in private houses on the outskirts of Ipswich. Three months later, they moved to billets at Woodbridge in Suffolk where they were to remain until April 1916, when they moved to a camp at nearby Bromeswell Heath. While in Suffolk, the battalion were occasionally engaged in attempts to shoot down Zeppelins passing overhead.

The battalion remained as a reserve force and in August 1916 moved to Longbridge Deverill, south of Warminster in Wiltshire, where they trained on Salisbury Plain in readiness for their pending move to France.

The battalion were finally sent to France on 5 February 1917, when they travelled by train from Warminster to Southampton where they sailed for France on board the SS “Viper” arriving at Le Havre the following day. There then followed an extremely cold train journey, lasting more than 24 hours, before they reached Wavans in the Pas-de-Calais department. Their first contact with the enemy came on 5 March when they were posted to the trenches at Wailly.

After spending time behind the lines, the battalion moved south in the middle of May to take up a position north of Bapaume. On 23 May, the battalion moved into the front line near Bullecourt where they came under heavy fire for the first time with many casualties, with one officer and twelve other soldiers being killed on the first day. Over the next six weeks, the battalion remained at or near the front line around Bapaume until 11 August when they moved north to Poperinghe, west of Ypres (Ieper), where they were regularly engaged in action against the enemy over the next several months.

In January 1918, the battalion officially became the 12th London Regiment, moving to Corbie, near Amiens in France, where they again engaged the enemy regularly. In May, they were moved to the front line near Albert in the Somme valley.

From mid-August, the regiment were engaged in heavy fighting during the Second Battle of the Somme which pushed the German Second Army back over a 35 mile front, and by 2 September, the Germans had been forced back to the Hindenburg Line. The regiment remained in the front line between Albert and Bapaume until early October, when they moved to the Lens Sector and joined the 8th Corps.

James Kingston grave at Maroc British Cemetery
James Kingston’s grave at Maroc British Cemetery

Death & commemoration

On 8 October, the battalion moved to the front line near Annay, making regular night patrols. On 11 October, the battalion came under machine gun fire in which the commanding officer, Lieut. Colonel Stephen Chart was hit in the leg and Rifleman James Kingston was killed.

He was buried at Maroc British Cemetery in the village of Grenay, ten miles west from where he was killed. He is also commemorated on the war memorial in the village of Cocking, West Sussex.

Subsequent family history

James’s widow remarried, to John Griffiths, in 1919; she died in London in 1953. Her son, James, married Charlotte Parkinson in 1928; the couple had twin daughters in 1930. James died in Shropshire in 1984. 

Note

It is not clear why James Kingston is commemorated on the Cocking war memorial, as he has no apparent association with the village.  The only local connection that can be found is that his wife’s mother, Emily Margaret Gardner’s death was registered in Westhampnett, Chichester in September 1930.

 

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project