James (named as Thomas in the 1901 census) was born in Lincoln in the last quarter of 1891, the penultimate of the six children of James John Whittaker and his wife Elizabeth nee Wilkinson who were married in 1882 at Lincoln where Elizabeth was born. His siblings all born in Lincoln were Annie Elizabeth b 1884, (John) William b 1886, Frank b 1887, Kate b 1889 and Charles b 1895. In 1891 his parents were living with the four older children at 12 Unity Street, Lincoln.
James senior who was born in Brighton was a fitter and moved back to Rugby (where he had been living as an adolescent with his parents in the 1870s) between 1895 when Charles was born and 1901 when they were living at 7 Bridget Street. Both parents died before the 1911 census, Elizabeth in 1903 aged 50 and James John in 1910 aged 54, so their children were scattered by the time of the 1911 census. Annie was then a cook living in Beverley, Yorkshire, where she married James H Bruce in 1914. Kate remained in Rugby, a laundress boarding in Pennington Street. She married Stanley Avery also in 1914. Charles, who was only fifteen, was living with his father’s youngest brother Charles Frank Whittaker, a beerhouse holder, at 19 Rokeby Street, Rugby, his brother William , a clerk at an electrical works, was lodging at 74 Victoria Street, New Bilton, and his brother Frank was visiting the extensive Bird family at 1 Bridget Street, New Bilton. James Thomas himself has not been found in the 1911 census.
James Thomas’s grandfather Thomas Whittaker who was also a fitter, first came to Rugby around 1870. He was born in Bolton but from the birthplaces of his children he travelled extensively round the country, perhaps with the railways? In 1854 in Wolverhampton he married Mary Walker, who was born in Leicester. They were in Cardiff for the birth of their first child Charlotte in 1855, then Brighton in 1857, Peckham Middx in 1859, Stoke on Trent in 1860, Manchester in 1863 and Stoke again in 1864.
James Thomas’s service record has been destroyed, but he must have joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a Territorial soldier (No 1785) before the war started as the Regimental website states that James’s Battalion, the 1/7th, was stationed at Coventry at the outbreak of war, then moved to Chelmsford with the 1/5th and 1/6th Battalions which were all Territorial Forces. They were all sent to France, landing at Le Havre on 22 March 1915 which is confirmed by James’s medal card. These Battalions saw action along the Western Front, so James would have experienced a good deal of warfare in the following eighteen months. In 1916 his Battalion as part of the 48th Division (South Midlands) took part in the Battle of Albert during the opening stage of the Battle of the Somme, Bazentin Ridge, and Pozieres (which heavily involved Australian troops) in July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.
He was wounded in conflict and sent to a Military Hospital at Boulogne where he died of his wounds on 23 August 1916 aged 24. At his death he was a Lance Corporal. He is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery where the dead from the hospitals in Boulogne are buried. Unusually the gravestones here are laid flat because of the sandy soil. The CWGC citation notes the he was the “Son of James Thomas and Elizabeth Whittaker, native of Rugby”.
He was awarded the British and Victory medals and the 1915 Star. The Register of Soldiers Effects notes that his back pay of £14.3.4d was divided among his siblings Kate Avery, Annie Bruce, John William, Frank and Charles (who requested his share be paid to his sister Kate). Kate also received James’s War Gratuity of £8.10s.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM