b. 03/05/1888 Lincoln. d. 10/08/1949 Edgware, Middlesex.
James Whitbread Upton (1888-1949) was born at 5 Alexandra Cottages, Victoria Street, Lincoln on 3rd May 1888. His father was James Whitbread. He married Eliza Tustino in 1867 and by 1881 they were living in Lincoln, close to where James’ mother, Hannah was living. James’ mother was Hannah nee Crane, who had married Alfred Hemson Upton, an iron driller in 1873. It is believed that Hannah left Alfred in around 1885. By 1891, she was working as housekeeper to James Whitbread, having had James in 1888. Hannah left James and moved to Nottingham where she lived between 1892 and 1895. By 1901 she was back in Lincoln. James had at least nine full and half siblings from his parents different relationships.
James was educated at St Peter at Gowts School, Lincoln and was a member of the Church Lads’ Brigade. For part of his childhood he was brought up by his sister Martha Mann and her husband Tom, either when his mother went to Nottingham, or due to overcrowding in the cottage in Lincoln. He was employed as a labourer in Mr W Rigley’s Wagon Works at Bulwell and may have lived with his mother at the time. When he decided to enlist in 1906, he was living with another of his older sisters, Mary in Willingham, near Nottingham.
James enlisted with the 4th Sherwood Foresters (Militia) at Derby on 14th May 1906. His next of kin was listed as his brother Frank and sister Mary. He enlisted for regular service on 24th July 1906 and served in Ireland 1908-1909 and then in India until war broke out. The Battalion sailed from Bombay on 3rd September 1914 and landed at Plymouth on 2nd October. James went to France on 4th November.
On 9th May 1915 at Rouges Bancs, France, Corporal Upton rescued the wounded while exposed to rifle and artillery fire, going close to the enemy’s parapet. One wounded man was killed by a shell while the corporal was carrying him. When not actually carrying the wounded he was engaged in dressing and bandaging the serious cases in front of our parapet.
He was presented with his VC ribbon by Major General Sir Francis Davies, GOC 8th Division, near Sailly, France on 8th July 1915. James returned to England on 14th July and his VC was presented by King George V at Windsor Castle on 24th July. He was also presented with an illuminated address and a purse of gold by the Mayor of Nottingham, but it is not known when this ceremony took place. James continued to serve in France until 7th February 1918 and is understood to have been engaged in recruiting in London thereafter. He was demobilized on 30th March 1919.
James married Mary Jane nee Chambers on 20th July 1915. They went on to have three sons: George (born in 1909), Thomas Herbert (born in 1918) and Kenneth Victor (born in 1919). James sadly chose to leave his wife in 1919 while she was pregnant with Kenneth, and nothing was heard of him for a number of years until he turned up living at Victoria Lodge, Old Kenton Lane, Kingsbury, where he ran a social club in North London. He is believed to have married Ada Bennett bigamously at Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire in 1927 and they had a daughter, Rita, who sadly died as an infant.
In the Second World War, James was a captain in 12th Middlesex Battalion Home Guard from 1st February 1941 and was promoted major on 11th November 1942. He died at Edgeware General Hospital on 10th August 1949 and was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium where his ashes were scattered.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and the Defence Medal 1939-45. The VC was presented to the Regiment in 1962 by his sister-in-law, Mrs Louisa Upton. It is now held by the Sherwood Foresters Museum in Nottingham Castle. Interestingly, the three World War I campaign medals are not actually James’ but named to a J Ayers ASC. It is not known what became of James’ originals.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SHERWOOD FORESTERS MUSEUM, NOTTINGHAM.
BURIAL PLACE: GOLDERS GREEN CREMATORIUM, LONDON.
Kevin Brazier – Image of the Golders Green VC Plaque and Cemetery Map.
Brian Drummond – Image of the Upton VC Medal Group at Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham.