UNDERWOOD James William 1895 – 1917


260125 Private James William Underwood, 1/5th Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was killed in action 20 September 1917, aged 22.  He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Ieper, West Vlaanderen, Belgium[1] and on the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

James William Underwood was born 1895[2] at Quebec, near Lanchester, County Durham the son of William and Sarah Underwood.  There were 2 children:

  • James William born 1895 at Quebec
  • Mary Elizabeth bc.1900 at South Pontop near Lanchester

In 1901, the family lived at Farm House tenements, Medomsley near Lanchester where 36 years old William worked as a coal miner.[3]  In 1911, William and Sarah lived at Cornsay Colliery, County Durham where William worked as a coal miner (hewer) and 16 years old James was employed as a, “driver” at the colliery.[4]  At some time later, by February 1917, James worked at Slotburn Brick Works, Howden-le-Wear, County Durham.[5]  William and Sarah later lived at 43 Low Albion Street, Witton Park.[6]

Military Details

20 January 1916, James W. Underwood aged 21 years 1 month attested at Langley Park, County Durham.  He then lived at 37 Hedley Hill,[7] County Durham.  He was of the Protestant faith.  He was posted to the Army Reserve.

19 February 1917: He was mobilized and posted to the 4th Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment, the following day being given the service number 205182.[8]  He underwent a medical examination at Sunderland, when it was recorded that he stood 5’ 5½” tall and weighed 126 lbs..[9]  

25 May 1917:  He entered France via Boulogne.

9 June 1917, Private James W. Underwood was transferred to the 1/5th Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. His service number was 260125.

The 1/5th Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (1/5 LNLR) was a Territorial Battalion, formed in August 1914 at Bolton, Lancashire.  It was part of the North Lancashire Brigade in the West Lancashire Division.  In February 1915, it landed at Le Havre, France and in January 1916 came under the orders of the 166th (South Lancashire) Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Division,[10] which between June and September 1917 comprised the following units:

  • 1/5th Bn., the King’s Own, Royal Lancaster Regiment
  • 1/10th Bn., the King’s Liverpool Regiment
  • 1/5th Bn., The South Lancashire Regiment
  • 1/5th Bn., the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
  • 166th Machine Gun Company
  • 166th Trench Mortar Battery

In 1917, the first half of the year was spent at the Ypres Salient in Belgium and it had a relatively quiet time, nevertheless surrounded on 3 sides by the enemy was under constant artillery fire.  The battle, now known as the Third Battle of Ypres or quite simply, Passchendaele, took place later in the year. 

22 June 1917: Private James W. Underwood joined  his battalion, “in the field”.[11]  His first duty was to be sent for intense training with the rest of his new battalion.  1/5 LNLR entrained at Poperinghe station for St. Omer where they detrained and were billeted at Acquin.  Training took place at Setques until 20 July in preparation for the Fifth Army attack on the Ypres Salient which was to follow the Battle of Messines.  The brigade returned to Poperinghe and the battalion was billeted at Query Camp near Vlamertinghe.[12]

Loyal North Lancashire Regiment Cap Badge

 31 July – 10 November 1917:  The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) [13]

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

A total of 54 Divisions were thrown into battle and many visited the Ypres Salient during “Third Ypres” and on more than one occasion.  The 55th Division took part in 2 major phases:[14]

  • 31 July to 2 August: The Battle of Pilckem
  • 20 to 23 September: The Battle of Menin Road

The “Third Ypres” offensive cost the British nearly 310,000 casualties, the Germans slightly less and it consumed all of the available reserves.  The village of Passchendaele was entered 6 November 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 Ypres.  The Salient had been deepened by about 5 miles and the Germans 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. 

11 July:   an air offensive began. 

18 July:  a massive artillery bombardment commenced. 

31 July:  the attack itself began 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. 

The Battle of Pilckem:  31 July to 2 August

The 55th Division attacked at 3.50am, 31 July with 2 brigades 165 and 166 plus 1 in support, 164 Brigade.  166 Brigade attacked with 1/5 King’s Own (R Lancs) and 1/5 LNLR.  They encountered a number of machine gun nets on the way but managed to keep up with the artillery barrage.  The attack was taken on by 1/10 Liverpool Scottish and 1/5 South Lancs, who experienced strong opposition from Spree Farm, Capricorn Trench and the distant Pond Farm.  The 1/5 LNLR was sent in as support.  By 7am, Liverpool Scottish controlled Capricorn Trench and were in touch with 1/5 South Lancs.  Spree Farm and Pond Farm had not fallen.[15]

Prior to the commencement of the battle, from the 24 to 31st July, the 1/5 LNLR was in trenches near Wieltje and subjected to the usual hate of warfare which brought about significant casualties.  The War Diary reports that casualties were 3 officers killed, 5 wounded and about 150 Other Ranks.  The diary records that on the 31st July, the Fifth Army attacked German trenches and specifically that 1/5 LNLR attacked a front of 350 yards, penetrating 400 yards. The gained trenches were heavily shelled by German artillery on the following day, 1 August.  The battalion was not relieved until 2 August. No specific figures other than those above are reported in the War Diary, therefore the exact number of casualties suffered by 1/5 LNLR during this action is unknown.  [16]  Later research records that between 24 July and 3 August 1917, 1/5 LNLR lost 5 Officers and 62 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds.[17] 

Another source provides details that between 30 July and 4 August, the 55th Division attacked in the area of Spree, Pond and Schuler Farms, suffering 168 officer and 3384 other ranks casualties (killed wounded or missing). The 55th Division was then withdrawn to Recques for re-fit and training on 7 August. [18] 

The War Diary reports that 1/5 LNLR was camped at Vlamertinghe on 3 August before going to Abeele, en-route to Recques, arriving 6 August for training.  The War Diary reports that 13 September, 1/5 LNLR left Recques, entraining at Audruicq bound for Vlamertinghe, Goldfish Chateau for the next phase of the battle.  Between 14 and 18 September, the battalion was at Ypres Canal Bank and provided working parties.  There were casualties – 2 officers wounded, 3 Other Ranks killed and 11 wounded which included 1 self-inflicted and 1 shell shock. The battalion moved on the 19 September to Uhlan Farm and on the 20th, 55 Division attacked trenches south of St. Julian.[19] 

The Battle of Menin Road: 20 – 23 September:

The 55th Division attacked with 164 and 165 Brigades.  165 Brigade, with 1/7 and 1/9 King’s Liverpool Regiment and 1/5th and 1/6th King’s, were to take the Green Line.  They soon came under fire from Iberian and Hill 35 however Iberian fell at 6.45am.  The Green Line was reached by 8.30am.  At 9.30am 2 companies of the 1/5 LNLR were ordered to reinforce the 1/6 and 1/9 King’s in an attack on Hill 37 from Hill 35.  At 3.35pm, British troops were seen advancing onto the Hill and at 5.10pm, the position was consolidated.[20]

The War Diary confirms that the battalion took part in the capture of Hill 37 and repulsed a counter attack.  The trenches gained were consolidated the following day, 21 September and the battalion was relieved on 22 September.  Casualties were reported as – killed 20 Other Ranks, wounded 4 Officers and 140 Other Ranks, missing 1 Officer and 3 Other Ranks.[21]

Later research records that between 20 and 23 September 1917, 1/5 LNLR lost 1 Officer and 27 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds including Private James W. Underwood on 20 September 1917.[22]

Other sources record that the 55th Division casualties in this action were 127 officers and 2603 men, incurred in the heavy but successful fight for Gallipoli, Schuler Farm and the Hanebeek.[23]

Awards and Medals

Private James W. Underwood was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[24]

Medal Roll Card Index


James W. Underwood’s mother Sarah received his effects[25] and pension.[26]


Private James W. Underwood has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial (panel 102 – 104).   The Memorial to the Missing is one of 4 memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient which stretched from Langemarck in the north to Ploegsteert Wood in the south.  The Tyne Cot Memorial forms the north-eastern boundary of the Tyne Cot Cemetery and bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are unknown.  The memorial was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and was unveiled in July 1927. [27]

Tyne Cot Cemetery: The Tyne Cot Memorial is along the back wall.


James W. Underwood was born at Quebec in west Durham, the son of William and Sarah.  He was single and worked as a miner.  He was mobilized February 1917 and initially served with the East Yorkshire Regiment but was transferred to the 1/5th Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in June 1917.  Private James W. Underwood saw action at Passchendaele in 1917, August, the Battle of Pilckem and September, the Battle of Menin Road.  Aged 22, he was killed in action 20 September 1917, as his battalion fought for Hill 37.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial along with almost 35,000 other officers and men.  


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.344 Lanchester 1895 Q1

[3] 1901 census

[4] 1911 census

[5] Letter dated 17th February 1917 from Mr. Widdas (Witton Fire Brick Co. Ltd.) to Captain Shearwood, Bishop Auckland.

[6] Army Form name and address of next of kin & Army Form 118A

[7] Hedley Hill is located between Tow Law and Esh Winning, County Durham

[8] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[9] Army Form various sections including B.178 Medical History


[11] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[12] War Diary 1/5 Bn., Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, June 1917

[13] Various sources including: www.ypressalient.co.uk/3rd%20Ypres%20of%20Battle.htm

& web.westernfrontassociation.com/thegreatwar/articles/timeline/ypres3.htm

& www.warpath.orbat.com/battles_ff/1917.htm

[14] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/55th-west-lancashire-division/

[15] “The Third Ypres Passchendaele: The Day by Day Account” 1995 Chris McCarthy p.26 & 27

[16] War Diary 1/5 Bn., Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, July and August 1917

[17] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[18] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/55th-west-lancashire-division/

[19] War Diary 1/5 Bn., Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, September 1917+

[20] McCarthy p.77 &78

[21] War Diary 1/5 Bn., Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, September 1917

[22] ODGW & SDGW

[23] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/55th-west-lancashire-division/

[24] Medal Roll card index & Roll of Individuals entitled to the V & BW medals dated 22 October 1920

[25] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects Record No.573143

[26] Pension Claimants card index

[27] CWGC