Corporal James Francis Duley DCM, MM

Regiment: Royal Field Artillery (58th Brigade) at his death
Service No.: 51306
Date and place of birth: Second quarter 1891 in Godstone Registration District, Surrey
Date and place of death: 5 October 1917 (aged 26) buried at Dozinghem Military Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium

Corporal James Francis Duley was born in 1890 in the Godstone area of Surrey and his father was later a gardener. He enlisted into the regular army with the artillery and saw service in India. He came back to Europe at the outbreak of war and was awarded both the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal during his time on the Western Front. He died of wounds sustained in action in October 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele.

Family background

James Duley was born in the second quarter of 1891 in the Godstone district of Surrey. His birthplace is variously given as Croydon and Caterham in different contexts. His parents were James Fergusson Duley, a gardener, and Mary (or Marie) née Fergusson.

The whereabouts of the family in 1901 are difficult to find but in 1911 his father was working as a gardener and caretaker of an empty house at Wood Hall, near Woodbridge, Suffolk. By the time of the Great War, his father had moved to Sussex and was gardener to Admiral (later Sir) Arthur Leveson who was living at Bridgeland House near Iping. Admiral Leveson had a distinguished naval career. He was appointed a Rear Admiral in 1913 and fought at the Battle of Jutland.

On the War Memorial, James Duley’s name is given as J. Francis Duley which may indicate that he was commonly called Francis (or even Frank) to distinguish him from his father.

Military service

James Duley enlisted at Woodbridge in Suffolk possibly in 1907 (since in 1915 he is said to have seen eight years service) and by the time of the 1911 census he was a member of the Royal Garrison Artillery and serving in India, being present at the royal Durbar.

The local paper states that at the outbreak of war he volunteered to return and join the Royal Field Artillery in England. In June 1915 he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal “for gallant conduct and devotion to duty while employed as a telephonist” often under heavy fire near St Eloi where he “frequently repaired broken wires under shell and rifle fire”. Part of the duties of the artillery personnel was to relay back to the actual gun layers, reports of how the gunfire was falling when out of sight of the guns themselves by manning forward observation points.

A long report in the West Sussex Gazette on 29 July 1915 gives an interview with him and details of the action in April 1915 when he spent 50 hours under fire but was “not out of communication with the battery at any period longer than seven minutes”.

In May 1915, Bombardier Duley was wounded when his horse bolted after being startled by a shell burst. He sustained significant injuries to his knee and to the fingers of his left hand which put him out of action for some nine weeks. At some point after this, he was promoted to the rank of corporal.

Death and commemoration

The Third Battle of Ypres which has come to be known as Passchendaele began on 31 July 1917. It began with a series of offensives east of Ypres. These included attacks on 26 September and on 4 October which advanced the front a little. These attacks involved heavy bombardment of the enemy. It was on 4 October that the heavy rain began that turned this low-lying area into the mud-bath for which the battle became infamous.

It was during this fighting that James Duley died on 5 October 1917 of wounds he had sustained. He must have been taken to the casualty clearing station at Dozinghem some eight miles north-west of Ypres and he was subsequently buried at Dozinghem Military Cemetery near Poperinge in Belgium. His award of the Military Medal was gazetted on 28 January 1918 and this presumably relates to his conduct on the battlefield where he died, although no citation for or account of his deeds has yet been traced.

His name is listed on the War Memorial in Iping Church.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project