Manley Angell James
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|Manley Angell James|
12 July 1896|
|Died||23 September 1975
Westbury on Trym, Bristol
|Years of service||1914–1951|
Royal Sussex Regiment
|Commands held||Director of Ground Defence, Air Ministry (1948–50)
140th Infantry Brigade (1945)
128th Infantry Brigade (1941–43)
2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment (1939–40)
|Battles/wars||First World War
Second World War
Distinguished Service Order
Member of the Order of the British Empire
Mentioned in Despatches
Brigadier Manley Angell James, VC, DSO, MBE, MC (12 July 1896 – 23 September 1975) was a British Army officer and an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
James was born on the 12 July 1896 in Odiham, Hampshire. He was the son of Dr. John Angell James and Emily Cormel James. The family later moved to Bristol, where Manley was educated at Bristol Grammar School in 1906 and joined the Officers' Training Corps, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.
First World War
Although intending to follow his father into the medical profession, the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, shortly after his 18th birthday, saw James volunteer for service in the British Army. As a result, he was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant into the 8th (Service) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment.
The battalion, a Kitchener's Army unit raised from volunteers the previous September, was assigned to the 57th Brigade of the 19th (Western) Division and, after many months of training, departed for the Western Front, where it remained for the rest of the war, in July 1915, arriving in France on 18 July as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). By this time James, promoted to temporary lieutenant on 28 June 1915, was in command of the battalion's Lewis gun detachment.
With most of the rest of 1915 spent learning about trench warfare, July 1916 saw the battalion—commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Carton de Wiart—engaged in the Battle of the Somme, specifically in the capture of La Boiselle. James was wounded in this action and evacuated to England for treatment. He was mentioned in despatches for his handling of the battalion's Lewis guns, and returned to France in December as a member of the 57th Brigade HQ staff. He rejoined his battalion soon afterwards but was again wounded, by shrapnel, in February 1917, and in April he again was mentioned in despatches. Promoted to acting captain, he fought in the Battle of Messines where, now commanding 'A' Company, he was slightly wounded and awarded the Military Cross for his part in capturing a position called Druid's Farm.
The German Army launched its Spring Offensive in March 1918 with the aim of cutting off the BEF, deployed mainly in northern Belgium, from the French Army in the south. This was intended to force a German victory on the Western Front before the United States (which had entered the war in April 1917) were able to deploy significant numbers of troops on the Western Front.
On 21 March 1918, near Velu Wood, France, Captain James led his company forward, capturing 27 prisoners and two machine-guns. Although wounded, he refused to leave his company and repulsed three enemy assaults over the next day. Two days later, the enemy having broken through, he made a determined stand. His company inflicted heavy losses and gained valuable time for the withdrawal of the guns. After holding out to the last to enable the brigade to be extricated, he led his company forward in a local counter-attack, being again wounded in the process. He was last seen working a machine-gun single-handed, was wounded a third time and eventually taken prisoner.
James's company sustained seventy-five percent casualties in the offensive and many believed James himself to have been killed in action. He managed to send a postcard to his father informing him he had been taken prisoner. He was released soon after the Armistice with Germany in November and arrived in England on 25 December 1918.
Between the wars
James was invested with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 22 February 1919. He was later discharged from the army, and played for Clifton Rugby Football Club for a few years before receiving a permanent Regular Army commission as a lieutenant in the Gloucestershire Regiment. He was one of only two Glosters' officers who had received a wartime commission to be granted a Regular commission.
In 1925 he served as adjutant of the 1st Battalion, Glosters until 1928. In 1926 he became engaged to Noreen Cooper, and they married two years later and had a son. He served with the battalion in Egypt between 1928–30 before returning to the regimental depot in Bristol. In June 1930 he entered the Staff College, Camberley, graduating the following year. He returned to the 1st Glosters as a company commander in 1933 and from November 1934 to December 1936 he was a general staff officer (GSO) with Western Command. Promoted to major on 25 December 1936, he served as brigade major with the 13th Infantry Brigade, then under Northern Command. In January 1939 he transferred to the Royal Sussex Regiment and, promoted to lieutenant colonel, became Commanding Officer (CO) of the regiment's 2nd Battalion, then serving in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Second World War
At the start of the Second World War in September 1939 his battalion was sent to England where it became part of the 133rd Infantry Brigade of the 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division, a Territorial Army (TA) formation, then preparing for service in France.
In March 1940 he became a GSO1 and served on the staff of the 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division, another TA formation. In July he was promoted to brigadier, and served on the staff of VIII Corps. In February 1941 he was assigned as CO of the 128th Infantry Brigade, then serving as part of the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division and composed of three battalions of the Hampshire Regiment. In August 1942 the 43rd Division was reorganised as a 'mixed' division and the 128th Brigade transferred to the 46th Infantry Division.
After months spent training in desert warfare, he led the brigade overseas to North Africa in early 1943, where it fought in the Tunisian Campaign with distinction, earning James a Distinguished Service Order. The campaign came to an end in mid-May 1943, with the surrender of thousands of Axis soldiers. The brigade then, after initially being held in reserve for the Allied invasion of Sicily, settled down for training before taking part in the Allied invasion of Italy where his brigade sustained very heavy casualties and James himself was wounded and evacuated to Egypt.
In 1944 he was assigned to the General Staff of Middle East Command, and was transferred to the General Staff for Training Home Forces. Finally, in 1945, he became the CO for the 140th Infantry Brigade.
Between 1948 and 1951 he was the Director of Ground Defence for the Air Ministry. In 1951 he retired from the military at the rank of brigadier. Dying in Westbury on Trym at the age of 79 on 23 September 1975, he was cremated at Canford Cemetery.
- Gliddon, Gerald, VCs of the First World War Spring Offensive 1918