FITZGERALD James 1892 – 1917


250057 Lance Corporal James Fitzgerald, 1/6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 26 October 1917, aged 25.  He is buried at Cement House Cemetery, Langemarck, Belgium[1] and commemorated on the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

James Fitzgerald was born 1892 in Scotland, the son of Catherine Fitzgerald.  In 1901, 40 years old widowed Catherine lived at Helmington Row near Crook, County Durham with her 4 children:[2]

  • Mary B. aged 22 born at Shotton, County Durham recorded as, “servant domestic”
  • John aged 11 born at Newcastle
  • James aged 9 born at Scotland
  • Owen aged 6 born at Tow Law, County Durham

By 1911, Catherine lived at High Thompson Street, Witton Park with:[3]

  • Mary Butler, aged 26 born at Easington, County Durham
  • John aged 21
  • James aged 19
  • Mary Ellen Butler aged 9 born at Crook, County Durham
  • Catherine Butler, aged 4 born at Witton Park

John and James worked as miners.  Given the inconsistency in the 2 census returns, it is assumed that Mary Butler was Catherine’s daughter and Mary Ellen and Catherine Butler were her granddaughters.  Mary was James’ half-sister.[4]  John and James’ father has not been researched.  The family probably arrived in Witton Park by 1907.

Military Details

James Fitzgerald was a territorial soldier and a member of his local force, the 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry and was allocated the service number 1487.  Later, in 1917 when the numbering system of the Territorial Force was renumbered, he was given number 250057.[5]

The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division.[6] The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war.  Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, D.L.I
  • 1/8th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/9th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

Private J. Fitzgerald entered France 20 April 1915.[7]

DLI Cap Badge

Following heavy casualties in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/8th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915 and was then joined by:

  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916 [8]

From 31 December 1915 until 26 October 1917, L/C J. Fitzgerald’s death, the Division took part in the following engagements on the Western Front:

  • 15 – 22 September 1916: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette (6th phase of the Battle of the Somme
  • 25 – 28 September 1916: The Battle of Morval (7th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • 1 – 18 October 1916: The Battle of Le Transloy (8th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)      
  • 9 – 14 April 1917: The First Battle of the Scarpe (1st phase of the Arras Offensive)
  • 23 & 24 April 1917: The Second Battle of the Scarpe (2nd phase of the Arras Offensive)
  • 26 October – 10 November 1917: The Second Battle of Passchendaele (8th phase of the Third Battle of Ypres)

The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) 31 July – 10 November 1917 – an overview

The offensive had 8 distinctive phases:

  • Battle of Pilckem, 31 July to 2 August
  • Battle of Langemarck, 16 to 18 August
  • Battle of the Menin Road, 20 to 25 September
  • Battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September to 3 October
  • Battle of Broodseinde, 4 October
  • Battle of Poelcapelle, 9 October
  • First Battle of Passchendaele, 12 October
  • Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26 October to 10 November

Many Divisions visited the Ypres Salient during the Third Battle of Ypres and on more than one occasion.  A total of 54 Divisions were thrown into battle.  The offensive cost the British nearly 310,000 casualties, the Germans slightly less and it consumed all of the available reserves. 

18 July:  a massive artillery bombardment commenced. 

31 July:  the attack commenced when the British Fifth Army attacked north-east from the Ypres salient.  Initially, good progress was made but a strong counter-attack resulted in only a 2-mile advance.  Heavy rain fell on the first night flooding the swampy ground whose drainage system had been totally destroyed by the 10-day bombardment.  As a result, the whole operation was held up but offensive actions still took place.  The 50th Division did not enter the fray until 26 October. 

The Second Battle of Passchendaele (26 October – 10 November) [9]

24/25 October:  The 50th Division took over from the 34th Division.  The 149th Brigade occupied the front line to the south of Houthulst Forest and astride the Ypres-Staden Railway.  6/DLI did not enter the line until the evening of 31 October but carrying and working parties were provided in the preceding days. 

25 October:  The area in which the men worked proved to be extremely dangerous.  6 other ranks were wounded on the 26th.

26 October: A carrying party for the 151st machine gun company, provided by “Z” Company under the command of Second Lieutenant E.A. Ambrister, was called upon to support the machine gunners in an attack.  Seven other ranks of the party were wounded and 12 reported as missing.[10]  Later research records that 8 men serving with 6/DLI were killed in action 26 October 1917 including Lance Corporal James Fitzgerald and Serjeant G. Priestley from Cockfield.[11]

In the main attack, at 5.40am, 149 Brigade moved forward with the 4/Northumberland Fusiliers, 5/NF and 7/NF with 6/NF in support. 4/NF advanced to 80 yards of its objective but were halted by machine-gun fire and sniper fire therefore fell back to their original line.  5/NF took its first objective and at 7.40am troops were seen on Hill 23 but they came under MG fire.  By 4.15pm, they were back at the start line.  7/NF suffered a similar fate. 

The following text describes the horrendous conditions.

“At the period when this story begins, i.e., towards the  end of October, the whole Salient was a dreary desolate area, pockmarked with countless shell holes (those in the forward area being inhabited by small garrisons who constituted the “front line”), lines of water-logged, battered shell-torn trenches, evil-smelling and rat–infested cellars beneath a rubble of bricks, which once marked the dwelling place of farmer or villager in pre-war days, and burrowed holes in sodden earth, dignified by the name of dug-outs. Thick, clinging mud covered duck-board tracks and the few remaining roads to the front line; to slip from a former (a common experience) was to be engulfed in a shell hole feet deep in stinking water which often hid the poor remains of man and beast. Away from the trenches and “roads” the Salient presented an almost endless conglomeration of shell holes, stretches of water and morass; a patch of dry ground was a rarity. And this dismal state of the ground extended almost for miles beyond the front line, back west of Ypres and the Yser Canal, to where the guns were in action, “camouflaged” as much as possible, but always under a hail of shell of all calibre which the enemy’s artillery poured upon the Salient, covering almost every yard so that none were safe, even miles behind the front line. And our guns were just as persistent (even more so, for we were attacking) in searching out every hole and corner of the desolate area over which were scattered the enemy’s troops, eking out an existence not less precarious and vile than that under which we were living.

The 50th Division, it is true entered late into the operations, but early into the full horrors of the battlefield, for by the end of October, anything more terrible than conditions in the front line and the ground over which the 149th Infantry Brigade attacked, cannot be imagined, while the Divisional Artillery, longer (as usual) in the line than any unit of the Division, faced conditions which appalled even the stoutest-hearted gunner.”

The account continues:

“Fifty square miles of slime and filth from which every shell that burst threw up ghastly relics, and raised stenches too abominable to describe; and over all, and dominating all, a never ceasing, ear-shattering, artillery fire and the sickly reek of the deadly mustard gas.”

“The enemy’s artillery was very active, especially at night when he deluged us with mustard gas. So intense was this gas that everything one touched was infected with it. Nobody had a voice left after the first few days.  The action of the mustard gas was insidious: “We did not at first realize the full danger of this, and just laughed because no one had a voice; but when people began to blister and swell, and two men of my old Battery died horribly from eating bread which had been splashed with this stuff, we got wind up thoroughly. The whole area was tainted: one could touch nothing with safety; even our own doctor, who came to see us, slipped in the mud and was so badly blistered by it that we never saw him again. The gas casualties were bad enough, but oh! The shell casualties were pathetic. I lost many of my greatest friends in the Battery, horribly mutilated in the mud, and towards the end was as near a raving lunatic as possible … Our guns were in the open; the only protection from the gunners the high explosive; and the mud was over everything and tainted with mustard gas.”

6 November 1917:  the village of Passchendaele was entered and the whole campaign ended a few days later when more of the ridge was taken.  It achieved none of its objectives although the Germans could no longer look down on the Ypres Salient which had been deepened by about 5 miles and they had been prevented from attacking the French when its army was in disarray following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive.  From the outset, it was obvious to the German Fourth Army that a new attack was being prepared and the previous year they had begun to strengthen their defences.  The British did not force home their initial advantage and it was not until 11 July that an air offensive began. 


Lance Corporal James Fitzgerald was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.[12]

MEDAL ROLL card index


250057 Lance Corporal James Fitzgerald, 1/6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry is buried at grave reference IX.D.24, Cement House Cemetery, Langemarck, Belgium, a concentration cemetery, his body having been exhumed and reburied there.[13]


Miss Mary Butler, James’ half-sister received his pension and effects.  She lived at 12 High Thompson Street, Witton Park. [14]



James Fitzgerald was born in Scotland.  His family moved to Witton Park and by 1907, James worked as a coal miner.  He served as a territorial soldier with the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry and entered France in April 1915.  He saw action at Ypres in Belgium and the Somme in France before being posted back to the Ypres Salient to take part in the later stages of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.  He was killed in action 26 October 1917 and is buried at Cement House Cemetery, Langemarck, Belgium.  He was about 25 years old and a single man.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] 1901 census

[3] 1911 census

[4] Army Pension Record card index ref: 2/D/1322

[5] Medal Roll card index


[7] Medal Roll card index


[9] “The Third Ypres Passchendaele: A Day by Day Account” 1995 Chis McCarthy p.131 & 132; “The Story of the Sixth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry from April 1915 to November 1918” 1919 Captain R.B. Ainsworth MC; “The Faithful Sixth: a history of the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry” 1995 Harry Moses & “The Fiftieth Division 1914-1918” Everard Wyrall1939

[10] Moses p.92

[11] SDGW & CWGC

[12] Medal Roll card index, Rolls dated 31 October 1919 & 7 August 1920

[13] CWGC

[14] Army Pension Record card index ref: 2/D/1322 & UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1922 Record No.607533