b, 17/11/1881 Derby. d. 12/03/1915 Neuve Chapelle, France.
Jacob Rivers (1881-1915) was born at House 4, Court 12, Bridge Gate, St Alkmund, Derby on 17th November 1881. His father was George Rivers, a bricklayer’s labourer and later a railway labourer. His mother was Adeline ne Holmes, a servant. They were married in 1876 in Derby. Jacob had four brothers and six sisters, though sadly two of the brothers and two of the sisters died in infancy.
Jacob was educated at Orchard Street School, off Chapel Street in Derby, and was then employed as a riveter with Phoenix Foundry Company, Derby. He enlisted with the 3rd Battalion, The Derbyshire Regiment (Militia) on 22nd April 1898, giving his age as 17. On 3rd June 1899 he enlisted with regular service in the Royal Scots Fusiliers but was soon in trouble with the authorities and was imprisoned for 8 days by his Commanding Officer in December 1899. On 15th March 1901 he moved to India to join the 1st Battalion and also served in Burma. He extended his service to complete eight years on 1st April 1904, but fell foul of authority again, having his pay reduced to 3d per day on 7th April 1905. In October 1905, he broke out of barracks and was caught and sentenced by Court Martial to imprisonment until 1st November.
Jacob left India on 28th February 1907 and transferred to the 2nd Battalion at Tidworth on 1st March and was discharged to the Reserve in June. He returned to Derby and was employed as a labourer for a coal agent, and was later a gang labourer on a Midland Railway Company ballast train. He was discharged from the Reserve on 2nd June 1911.
Sadly, Jacob was regularly in trouble with the police. In July 1909, he was caught in possession with items involved in poaching. He was found guilty and was sentenced to 10s and costs or 1 days imprisonment. On 1st January 1912, he was drunk and disorderly in Derby and was fined 10s plus costs or 14 days imprisonment. A few months later he was charged with stealing or receiving a silver English lever watch from Robert Holgate, a pensioner, who was knocked to the ground and kicked by a man unknown after visiting the White Hart pub in Derby. Jacob attempted to pawn the watch and denied stealing it, but was fined £2 plus costs or 1 month’s hard labour.
Jacob decided to re-enlist on 18th August 1914, joining the 1st Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters on 10th November. He went to France on 11th December and was admitted to No 4 Stationary Hospital with frostbite of the feet on 23rd January 1915. It seems more likely he was suffering from trench foot, as he was discharged on the 29th.
On 12th March 1915, at Neuve Chapelle, France, Private Rivers, on his own initiative, crept to within a few yards of a very large number of the enemy who were massed on the flank of an advanced company of his battalion, and hurled bombs on them. His action caused the enemy to retire, and so relieved the situation. Private Rivers performed a second similar act of great bravery on the same day, again causing the enemy to withdraw. He was killed on this occasion, and his remains never found – he is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial.
The Derby Daily Telegraph set up a Shilling Fund to assist his mother as she was living in poverty at the time of Jacob’s death. The fund had reached £50 within three weeks, but was just over £60 when it closed in June 1915.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The VC was initially sent to his mother by registered post on 15th October 1915, but was presented to her formally by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 29th November 1916. She received the freedom of the City of Derby in recognition of her son’s achievements in 1923. When she died in 1937, her funeral was attended by two veterans of Neuve Chapelle who had served alongside Jacob. Her daughter, Mrs Elizabeth Porter, presented Jacob’s medals to the Regimental Depot on 7th April 1937, and they are now held by the Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham Castle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SHERWOOD FORESTERS MUSEUM, NOTTINGHAM,
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE – ON LE TOURET MEMORIAL. PANEL 26-27.
Mark Jones – Image of the Rivers VC Medal Group at the Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham Castle.