James Arthur Reeves GC (AM exchanger)

b. 15/06/1911 Darwen, Lancashire. d. 26/12/1984 Darwen, Lancashire.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 14/09/1942 Arctic Ocean.

James Arthur Reeves (1911-1984) was born on 15th June 1911 in Darwen, Lancashire, one of six children of Joseph Henry and Agnes Reeves (nee Bailey). His siblings were John William, Alice, Joseph Henry, Thomas Norman and Robert Noel. Sadly, James only knew his four brothers as his sister Alice was killed in 1908 when she was run over by a drunken butcher. James attended Darwen Secondary School and at the age of 18 in 1929 he decided to join the Merchant Navy as an indentured apprentice with Manchester Liners trading between UK and Canada.

James A Reeves GC

In 1934, after obtaining his 1st Mate’s Certificate he transferred to the Prince Line but in 1940 as he needed to learn about tanker methods he joined the Athel Line for six months’ relevant experience – ironically, the six months turned into 22 years…leaving in 1962, 13 years of which were in command of their ships.

He was promoted to Chief Officer in 1940, a position he held for the duration of World War II. In February 1941 he married Eileen Gregory, the daughter of Alderman John Gregory, a former Mayor  of Darwen. They had no children. In April 1942 as part of Convoy PQ14 to North Russia his ship survived a number of near misses both from the air and from submarines and they were able to complete the voyage to Murmansk and back though on their return HMS Edinburgh was lost while shadowing the convoy.

On 14th September 1942, in the Arctic Ocean, on route from Reykjavik to Archangel, Russia, his ship SS Atheltemplar was torpedoed by the U-457. The ship was being abandoned when two men, Mr Broadbent and Mr Ridgewell, were seen floating helplessly in the oily water flooding the engine room. All the engine room ladders had been destroyed, but Reeves used a boat ladder to descend into the engine room and secure lines around them. While they were being hauled to safety, one of the men slipped back into the water. Again Reeves went back into the engine room, which was rapidly filling with surging water, and secured another rope around the injured man. They were all transferred to HMS Harrier.

For his actions, James Reeves was awarded the Albert Medal for Life Saving at Sea on 25th May 1943. James attended his investiture at Buckingham Palace on 23rd May 1944 where he received his AM from King George VI. After the war, the Athel Line was rebuilt and Captain Reeves took command in 1949 but had to retire from the sea in 1962 due to ill-health. Thereafter he took a job with Crown Paints finally retiring in 1976 though during this time he was also active in the Scouts becoming District Commissioner in Darwen from 1962 until in 1967 he was promoted to Assistant County Commissioner. He was also a member of the Darwen Civic Society and an honorary member of the Rotary Club.

In 1971, following the change in the Royal Warrant, James chose to exchange his AM for the George Cross. James donated his AM to the Athel Line Company, but when they closed down, the medal was returned to the Reeves family. James received his GC at Buckingham Palace on 6th March 1973. James was an active member of the VC and GC Association and regularly attended the biannual reunions. James died on Boxing Day 1984 in Darwen. He was cremated and his ashes were interred in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s, Darwen. James’ medals including his GC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, War Medal 1939-45, Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea and 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal are proudly held by the Reeves family.