Lieutenant James Francis O'Brien

Date of Birth 31/01/1890
Age at Death 24
Date of Death 21 December 1914
Service Number
Military Service 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers
Merton Address 21 Parkside, Wimbledon
Local Memorial Wimbledon College

Additional Information

James Francis O’Brien was born on 31 January 1890 at 28 Bouverie Square, Folkestone. He was the eldest son of Dennis Bray O’Brien, a wealthy Irish landowner and his London born wife, Clarissa. The O’Brien’s family seat was Ardfort House, set in a 1,029 acre estate in Thurles, County Tipperary. James had an older sister, Etheldade and two younger siblings, James and Agnes. By 1901 the O’Briens were living in a large property in Grange Road, Ramsgate, together with three servants. By 1911, they had moved to 119 Ridgway in Wimbledon Village – also named “Ardfort” after their Irish estate.

James was educated at St.Augustine’s School, Ramsgate, followed by Wimbledon College. This originated as a military academy, preparing students for future careers in the Army, the Navy or the Indian Civil Service. James joined the Army Class, founded in 1898 and run primarily by the Jesuit Fathers. Most of the students later went on to train at famous military academies, before joining the Armed Forces, the home or Indian civil service. James applied to the prestigious Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in September 1908. At this point he was still living with his family at 119 Ridgway, Wimbledon Village. They later moved to 21 Parkside – both properties were named “Ardfort” in memory of the O’Brien estate in Ireland.

James joined the Royal Munster Fusiliers in 1910, gaining the rank of Lieutenant by 1913. Little is known of his service prior to the war but records show that he was stationed in Rangoon, India. A keen sportsman, he played hockey for his regiment and even won the “Club Fours” rowing contest at the Rangoon Boat Club Monsoon Regatta.

Following the declaration of war, James and his unit embarked for the Western Front on 23rd September, 1914. He was killed just two months later, on 22 December. Military records initially reported him missing in action and the exact location of his death is unclear. However later reports suggest that during a frontal attack, intended to relieve the Indian Corps near La Bassee, his battalion came under heavy fire and James was shot in the head. In January 1915 his father wrote to the military authorities asking where his son was buried. On 14th April 1915 he was informed that the burial place was unknown but likely to be near the German trenches facing Festubert.

To add to the torment of the O’Brien family, James’ body was never found. His name appears on the memorial in the Le Touret Military Cemetary in the Pas de Calais, France. This lists more than 13,400 British soldiers, killed in this sector of the Western Front between early October 1914 and late September 1915, who have no known grave. James is also commemorated at Wimbledon College, where his name appears on a carved oak memorial panel in the ante-room to the chapel. A stained glass window installed at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Edgehill, Wimbledon in 1918, also serves as a joint memorial to him, his younger brother Francis and those men “who gallantly laid down their lives in the Great War”.


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