23-year-old Private James Howard Watts, 11th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was killed in action on 11th August 1917. He was the elder of the two children of parents Stephen Howard and Catherine (née Hodgkinson) who had married in Birmingham between January-March 1893. James and his sister, Kate Elizabeth, had five half-siblings from their mother’s first marriage to Thomas Ripley (1856-1890) – Margaret, Ferdinand(o) (1886-1964), Elsie, Agnes and Thomas.
The two boys also served in the First World War. Ferdinando served as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers, whilst Thomas was a private in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, serving at home with the 6th (Reserve) Battalion from 2nd November 1914 until being discharged unfit on 2nd August 1916 as a result of valvular heart disease, which he had had for some six years.
James Howard Watts was born in Moseley, and his birth was registered between January-March 1894. In 1901, aged 7, he was living in Sparkhill with his parents Stephen (a railway clerk) and Catherine , as well sister and five half-siblings. His father died in 1904, leaving his mother widowed for the second time. By 1911, the family had moved to Small Heath, by which time all the children were working. 17-year-old James was working as shop boy in a tailoring business.
Between 1911 and 1914, the family moved to live at the Telephone Exchange, Shirley. This was the address given by Thomas Ripley when he joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in November 1914. He served for one year 166 days, despite a heart condition that left him short of breath and prone to fainting fits and giddy turns. His service records notes that he “cannot march or do ordinary military service” , hence his discharge.
We don’t know when James enlisted but his medal index card shows no overseas service before 1916. He was killed in action on 11th August 1917 and is buried at Voormezeele Enclosure No. 3, Belgium. He is also commemorated locally on Shirley War Memorial.
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