Corporal James John Twyman

Additional Information

Born in St. Mary’s, Kent on 30 September 1885, James was the son of a chimney sweep, James Twyman and his wife, Agnes. The couple had 19 children, 9 of whom sadly died in infancy. In addition to James, their surviving sons were Charlie, Edward, Thomas, Albert, Ernest, William and Sidney. In 1891 the family were living at 9 Guildhall Street, Canterbury.

By 1901, the family had moved to 43 Ivy Lane, Canterbury. In October James joined the Navy as a ‘Houseboy’, serving on the ship Pembroke 1. Described at the time as fair with blue eyes and a fresh complexion, he stood 5 feet, 3.5 inches tall and had a tattoo of an anchor on his left arm. Having completed stints on various ships, he was discharged in April 1904.

In 1911 the Twyman family, including its latest members - Ethel aged 9, George 8 and Benji aged 5, was living at 10 Victoria Row, Canterbury. Having left the Navy, James had enlisted in the army on 11 July 1904. He was now serving as a Lance Corporal with the 1st Royal Sussex Regiment, based in Rawalpindi, India, where he spent the next nine years.

On 27 October 1913, James married Florence Titcombe at St. Peter & St. Paul Church, Mitcham. Her family came from Baron Row, Mitcham and her father Nelson, was once a coachman to George Bidder Q.C. at Ravensbury Manor, Mitcham. Marriage records list James as living in Scotland and working as a Chauffeur/Valet, presumably in a wealthy household, as in fact James worked for a time as a valet for Major Bidder at Ravensbury Manor. He also worked as a chauffeur for various firms in Mitcham. The couple’s only child, John, was born in 1914, before the outbreak of war.

As a reservist, James was required to return to duty immediately when the war started. Confusingly all the military records transpose his name to John James, rather than James John as shown in census records. He joined the 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, which was part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division. The unit landed at Le Havre on 13 August 1914 and was quickly called to action, fighting at the Battle of Mons (23 August, 1914); the Battle of the Marne (5 - 12 September, 1914) and the Battle of the Aisne (12 - 15 September 1914). The Battalion’s War Diary for 30 October 1914 records:-

“….YPRES (CHATEAU WOOD – “COALBOX WOOD”) 30 October 1914 In the morning about 10:00 AM the enemy, who probably had learnt by espionage that 1st Division Headquarters were in CHATEAU WOOD, began to “coal box” it with vigour. These shells dropped right along our men’s dugouts. During this bombardment orders were received by the 2nd Brigade to move at once to ZANDEVOORDE to restore the line. Order of march SUSSEX, NORTHAMPTONSHIRES – the other two battalions had moved towards GHELEVULT the night before …. In the first place Colonel CRISPIN endeavoured to take a short cut across country to road east of point E. Headquarters and the leading Company were just off the main road when the enemy opened a heavy shrapnel fire. Colonel CRISPIN’s horse took fright and took him on under this fire. He was shot and killed instantaneously and his horse stopped at a FARM nearby, where he is buried. The Battalion then proceeded under Major GREEN along the main road and turning to the left at HOOGE advanced to point X…. On reaching this point we were shelled a bit by high explosive shrapnel and high explosive percussion shells and received orders to attack and make good the line of the road A. D Company advanced and reached wood B supported by B Company. They were unable to advance farther although reinforced by B on account of very heavy rifle and machine gun fire….”

James Twyman was killed on that day, 30 October 1914, aged 29. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. His name also appears on the Mitcham War Memorial.

His widow, Florence, a Newsagent, later married Herbert Webb and the couple spent the rest of their lives in Mitcham. Sadly James’ only child, John, died on 11 July 1930, aged 16. He is buried at Church Road Cemetery, together with his mother and step-father.


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