James William Rothery was born on 5 September 1876 at Staincliffe, Batley, to Joseph and Hannah Rothery. In 1891 the Rothery family lived at 34, Halifax Road, Batley and Joseph was described in the census of that year as a cloth manufacturer. He must have been socially ambitious, for he had started his working life as a mill foreman. James had six sisters, three were at school, one was a teacher, and another a dress maker. The family were well enough off to employ a servant.
James Rothery attended Batley Grammar School in Autumn 1890. On his death on 2 June 1919, an old boy remembered him as ‘one of the neatest bats in the county eleven who had pulled Yorkshire out of some tight corners’. ‘Jimmie’, as he was known, was also ‘a lovely light-weight back, a fearless lacrosse player, and a dainty handler of a cue – one of the best all-round men at ball sports the school has seen’.
In 1901 the Rothery family had moved from Batley to Harrogate. There were now four sisters living at home, and James’ father was shown as being ‘out of employment’. James Rothery himself was a commercial clerk. In the 1911 census the Rothery family were living in St Mary’s Walk, Harrogate. James’ father had died but his mother employed a general servant, Gertrude Lawley. James was by now a professional cricketer for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, having started his cricketing career with Yorkshire in 1903. The census for 1911 shows his occupation as ‘Professional Cricketer: Yorkshire County Cricket Club’.
When he was attested in December 1915, James was living at 4 Montpelier Terrace, Harrogate. The address now is the home of a Blues Cafe in Harrogate Town Centre. Ironically the site is but a few hundred yards from the Harrogate War Memorial which bears his name, from its inauguration in 1926. On his enlistment forms he was noted as having the occupation of a ‘clerk’, which was probably correct in 1915, as he had ended his professional cricketing career. James Rothery was attested into the army on December 8th 1915. However, he was not actually mobilised until July 3rd 1916.
James Rothery’s attestation papers still exist in the National Archives. Because his attestation papers survive we know something about James Rothery’s stature and physique, as he was medically examined by a doctor on the day of his attestation. James was a short man, 5’5” tall when he was medically examined. This belies the picture of him in the Yorkshire County Cricket Club team photograph of 1908, where the man next to him is either very short or Rothery is standing on a box!
His age is shown as 39 years and 3 ½ months. His next of kin is shown as his mother, a Mrs Haley, who had married again since the death of James’ father. She is shown on the forms as next of kin but actually living at two different addresses in Harrogate at the time. James’ attestation forms note that he needed dental treatment. He enlisted in December 1915, in the reserve battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. This was probably so that he could join the ‘Sportsman’s’ section of the Fusiliers, which many men from several sporting backgrounds had joined. However, his tenure in the Fusiliers was not to last for long, as by the time he was posted the British Army was reorganising its units so that ‘Pals’ regiments, which the Fusiliers Battalion Rothery was attached to was classed as, or particular attachments to counties were not necessarily adhered to.
Instead of the Fusiliers, James Rothery was transferred to the 1st Battalion of the East Kent Regiment, known as ‘the Buffs’. This unit had seen almost continuous action from September 1914 – on the Aisne, in Flanders, on the Somme, at Cambrai, and later was to be involved in the great victories of the ‘hundred days’ in 1918. It was the catastrophic losses on the first day of the Battle of the Somme which hastened Rothery’s mobilisation two days later.
Initially James Rothery was posted to the 30th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers on 7 July 1916. The 30th was to become the 106th Training Regiment, and from there men could be posted to other units. His record shows he was transferred to the 106th Training Regiment upon its formation on 1 September 1916. The 30th and 31st (Reserve) Battalions were formed in Romford and Colchester in August and September 1915 as Reserve battalions.
James Rothery was posted to the British Expeditionary Force on 12 April 1917. On this date his record shows that he embarked for France. Shortly afterwards he joined the 1st Battalion of the East Kent Regiment, known as The Buffs, being transferred on 28 April 1917. He was attached to ‘B’ company of the Buffs. On that date his medical record states that he was shot in the left arm. He was moved to various field hospitals and Casualty Clearing Stations before being finally moved to England on 1 June 1917. James’ medical records show that this was not the first time he had been in hospital during his war service. He was treated in hospital for scabies even before he went to France, and again in February 1917 he was treated at the Castle Hospital in Edinburgh for scabies. Rothery was shot in the left arm on 26 May 1917 near the village of Huluch, and then spent a long time in hospital until his death in 1919. In June 1917 he was admitted to the Princess George War Hospital in Harrogate suffering from ‘GSW’ (gunshot wounds).
James was transferred to the East Leeds Hospital on 6 September 1917, now the site of the Thackray Medical Museum, perhaps because his wounds needed more specialised treatment. On 4 July 1918 he was considered fit enough to be transferred back to the Princess George Hospital in Harrogate. On 6 January 1918, an article appeared in the Harrogate Herald saying that doctors had decided at the hospitals ‘in the south’ that Rothery’s arm would have to be amputated. This indicated that there was some conflict regarding his treatment, for doctors differed as to whether amputation of the wounded arm was necessary. Ironically, if his arm had been amputated then his life would probably have been saved. The operation was deferred and septicaemia set into the wound, from which he died on 2 June 1919. James Rothery died in Beckett Park Military Hospital in Leeds, and his death was reported in the Harrogate Herald of 4 June.
James Rothery’s war record says that he spent a period of 3 years and 177 days with the Colours. However, analysis of his war record gives a stark picture of his life as a soldier. He entered the theatre of war in France on 12 April 1917, and was shot on 26 May. He was thus at the front for about 6 weeks in total. He spent the next two years in various hospitals in the Leeds and Harrogate areas.
James’ mother would have been alive to see the building of the War Memorial in Harrogate in 1926, which bears her son’s name. The memorial is but a few hundred yards from his last home in Harrogate. James Rothery left a total of £1457 17s 7d to his mother in his will.
The school magazine noted Rothery’s death in a 1919 issue.
He got a bad gunshot in the arm last year and was apparently making a satisfactory recovery, for he was a keen spectator of the practice at Headingley. His death on June 2nd at Beckett’s Park, came as a painful surprise. A lovely lightweight back, a fearless lacrosse player and a dainty handler of the cue, he was one of the best all round men at ball sports that BGS has seen.
James Rothery’s final resting place is under a family headstone in the Harlow Cemetery Harrogate, North Yorkshire. However, a further honour was bestowed upon him some ninety years after his death in 2007. On the opening day of the Roses Championship match at Headingley Carnegie on August 9, 2007, a plaque to honour the memory of Yorkshire players who had been killed in action or died of war wounds was unveiled just inside the Hutton Gates. The names on the plaque and their ranks are: Captain F.W. (Frank) Milligan (died at the Relief of Mafeking on March 31, 1900; Second Lieutenant M.W. (Major) Booth (killed in action near Serre, France, on July 1, 1916; Gunner F (Fairfax) Gill (died of war wound in Boulogne General Hospital on November 1, 1917; Private J.W. (James) Rothery (died June 2, 1919 in Beckett’s Park Hospital, Leeds, of war wounds sustained whilst serving with the East Kent Regiment; Captain H (Hedley) Verity, died Caserta, Italy, July 31, 1943, a captain in the Green Howards who was mortally wounded in Sicily.