James Hewitson (15th October 1892 to 2nd March 1963)

 

Some many of the Victoria Cross soldiers I visit have died young, their mental and physical health wracked by wartime experiences. This chap in a quaint churchyard in Coniston in the Lake District lived to the decent age of 70 (young these days) however when I read up about him it may have been better if he’d died younger. His war experiences killed him many years before he died.

 I got chatting to another GG (Grave Geek) in the churchyard. He was taking photos of every headstone for an ancestry group. He was a little boring so I got out of there. I hope I’m noting boring you.

 

He was born on a farm nearby in Coniston village, the second son of a farmer. For 22 years he was a farm labourer and probably would have continued with this way of life but in Europe the First World War raged. Aged 24 he joined the 8th Battalion King’s Own Regiment and was sent to the trenches to fight. For four years he pretty much lived in trenches. There was a reprieve each time he was wounded (four times) and was returned to safety to recover. Four times he returned to the front.

 

Aged 25 he was a Lance-Corporal and fighting in near Givenchy in Northern France. On Friday 26th April 1918 his party were under attack while in craters. Germans in trenches and dug-outs were shooting at them with rifles and machines guns. James prepared his lads (probably to die) and they went over the top with whatever guns and bombs they had. Most of the Germans (who were probably no more than 25 years old) took fright and surrendered. Six didn’t and they were shot. James and his lads were not safe yet. He spotted a hostile machine-gun team coming into action and worked his way round the edge of the crater to them. He stormed ahead again, killing four and capturing one. The savage day was not over. Soon afterwards he led a bombing party which was attacking a Lewis gun and killed six of them. He also carried one of his men on his shoulder over 2 miles back to safety while under gunfire. What a day…it’s not every day you kill sixteen of the enemy.

 

He was presented with the Victoria Cross medal by King George V in France on 8th August 1918 and returned home to a civic welcome in Coniston. Normally soldiers return to a normal working life, get married and have children but James suffered a profound mental breakdown (now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) He got married but spent most of his life in various hospitals and mental institutions having treatment. He underwent many operations for shrapnel embedded in his back but his mind was in a worse mess. He’d seen many of his school friends being killed and killed many as a soldier. He died in Stanley Hospital in Ulverston in March 1963 and here I am at the grave where he was buried with military honours.

 

I got chatting to another GG (Grave Geek) in the churchyard. He was taking photos of every headstone for an ancestry group. He was a little boring so I got out of there. I hope I’m not boring you.

 

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Across the road from the churchyard is Coniston’s main street…

 

 

Looking…looking…

 

 

Found him…

 

 

 

 

 

 

James’s tunic (the four stripes signify wounds)…

 

 

His snuffbox sold at auction…

 

If you visit Coniston village you have to visit Coniston…