b. 12/07/1896 140 High St, Odiham, Hampshire. d. 23/09/1975 Bristol, Avon.
Manley Angell James (1896-1975) was born on 12th July 1896 in Odiham, Hampshire, son of Dr John Angell James and Emily Cormell James (nee Ashwin). His parents later moved to Bristol, where Manley was educated at Bristol Grammar School from 1906-14 and joined the Officers’ Training Corps, where he rose to the rank of Sergeant. He was due to start medical training at Bristol University before war intervened.
In August 1914 Manley volunteered for service in the British Army and was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant into the 8th (Service) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment and was posted to France on the 18 July 1915, promoted to temporary lieutenant on 28 June 1915 and was put in command of the battalion’s Lewis gun detachment.
In July 1916 the Bn was 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.
He returned to his battalion December 1916, 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, after another battalion had failed to capture Druid’s Farm, a strong locality near Junction Buildings, the Gloucester’s attacked on a wide front and were completely successful.
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. On 21st March 1918, near Velu Wood, France, Captain James led his company forward. The 57th Brigade put up a most determined fight around Beaumetz before withdrawing. The fact that they were able to withdraw at all was due to the heroism of the small isolated covering parties who were left out to cover the withdrawal. In two known instances these parties fought to the last man. One was a party of Gloucester’s commanded by Captain M. Angell James MC who, wounded and unconscious, was found in a shell hole by the Germans. He was awarded the VC and at the close of war returned from captivity in Germany to his home in Bristol.
He was invested with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 22 February 1919.He was discharged in 1919 against his wishes and after considerable representation Captain James received a permanent Regular Army commission as a lieutenant in the Gloucestershire Regiment. 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.
In March 1940 he became a GSO1 and served on the staff of the 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division. 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 him 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 he 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. Manley died in Westbury on Trym at the age of 79 on 23rd September 1975, and was cremated at Canford Crematorium, and his ashes scattered in Memorial Bed 12 of the Garden of Remembrance. His medals were stolen in 1971 but later recovered. His medals including the VC, DSO, MBE and MC were purchased at auction at Christie’s, London on 21st October 1991 for £37,400. The purchaser was Michael Ashcroft and they are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM
BURIAL PLACE: CANFORD CEMETERY, WESTBURY-ON-TRYM, GLOUCS. (ASHES SCATTERED).
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
Mark Sanders – James VC Medal Card.
Carol Pollard – James VC Stone in Odiham, Hampshire.