JAMES GRINSTED was born in Horsham in 1886, the only child of John and Louisa Elizabeth Grinsted. In 1891 James and his parents were living at The Plough Inn (now Plough Cottage, Church Street) with John's mother, who was a 'beer retailer', John being listed as a 'brewer'. By 1901 James, aged 15, was boarding at 250 Ferndale Road, Lambeth and employed as a drapiers assistant. Ten years later he had moved to 126 High Steet, Putney and was employed as a window dresser .
James's Personal Service Record survives and indicates that he enlisted on 11th January 1915 at Armoury House, Finsbury, aged 27 years and 9 months old. He joined the Territorial Army, agreeing to serve overseas in the event of a national emergency, which therefore meant he was immediately mobilised for service. He gave his address as 29 Wellerly Road, West Croydon. James's medical recorded that he was 5 feet 11 inches tall, with a 34 inches chest expansion (with a 3.5 inch range).
Following his basic training, James embarked at Southampton for service with the British Expeditionary Force on 18th August 1915, and joined his battalion on 22nd August 1915. The 1st Battalion Honourable Artillery Company, an infantry battalion, had arrived in France on 20th September 1914, and at the time that James joined them were an element of 7th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Division, operating in the vicinity of Ypres.
ACTION AT HOOGE, SEPTEMBER 1915
On the night of 18th September 1915, 1/HAC moved into the line near Hooge, to the east of Ypres, and occupied positions in front of Bellewaerde Lake, including the contested craters. For six days previously the German line had been subjected to artillery barrage and attack as part of diversions to the forthcoming offensive at Loos which was due to open on the 25th September. Exactly one month after he had joined the battalion, on 22nd September 1915, James received a high explosive wound to right index finger during fighting around Hooge Crater, to the east of Ypres (18-24th September 1915) and was admitted to the 51st Casualty Clearing Station. The following day he was transferred 7th Field Ambulance at Brandhoek. and by the 25th September 1915 had reached No 3 Canadian General Hospital at Camiers. James was evacuated to England on Hospital Ship 'Oxfordshire' from Havre on 26th September 1915.
Following his recovery in England, James was promoted to Lance Corporal on 9th May 1916 and qualified as a Lewis machine gunner. When once again fit for overseas service he embarked at Southampton on 18th November 1916, and reverted to the rank of Private on embarkation. He landed at Havre on 19th November and arrived at 7 Infantry Base Depot where he was appointed Acting Corporal on 20th November 1916.
James was posted back to 1/HAC on 3rd December 1916, and joined unit as part of a draft of 101 reinforcements at Nouvion (north of Abbeville) on 6th December 1916. The battalion, which was now a part of 190th Infantry Brigade, 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, was resting and rebuilding in this location after operations on the Somme to the north of the River Ancre in November 1916. 1/HAC left Nouvion in mid January, marching via Canchy, Neuilly le Dien, Gezaincourt, Puchevillers and Lealvillers, before returning to the trenches near Beaucourt on 27th January 1917.
THE BATTLE OF ARRAS, 1917
The battalion remained in the Somme area until 19th March 1917, when they left Aveluy, marching via Contay, Beauval, Bonnieres, Blangerval, Tangry and Laires, arriving at L'Ecleme, on 26th March 1917 and on towards Hallicourt on 8th April. The following day the Battle of Arras commenced to the south east of the battalion's billets. They continued marching towards the battle on the 11th April via Beugin, before travelling by busses to Arras on the 14th, and preparing to go into the trenches by leaving their packs with the battalion transport. The battalion moved into Black Line near Arras and spent the morning of 15th clearing the battlefield and burying dead, before moving on to Bailleul.
On 16th April the battalion was subjected to heavy enemy shelling and undertook reconnaissance of the enemy Oppy-Gavrelle trenchline, which was found to be strongly held behind three substantial belts of barbed wire. James Grinsted received a minor wound on this day but was soon back with the battalion.
On 27th April James and the 1/HAC moved up to the front line near Gavrelle after a short period out of the front line. Their role was to support action by the 188th Brigade. The men were in position by 2.57am and at 4.25am on the morning of the 28th the covering artillery barrage began and the men of the Royal Naval Division advanced.
Initially in reserve, 1/HAC was ordered to advance up the German Oppy trenchline onto a German strongpoint which was holding up the advance, a concrete bunker known as the Railway Post housing machine guns and over 100 troops at the point where the trenchline crossed the Bailleul to Vitry railway line. The attack was led by C Company 1/HAC under Lieutenant Haine and D Company 1/HAC led by Lieutenant O’Brien. The battalion managed to capture this position at 8.55am together with about 50 prisoners, and then pushed to the north to try to link up with other elements of the Royal Naval Division before being forced back behind the railway line by a German counter attack.
For his part in the battle Lt Reginald Leonard Haine, aged just 20, was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation reads:
'On 28/29 April 1917 near Gavrelle, France, when British troops were holding a salient which was being repeatedly counter-attacked by German forces, Second Lieutenant Haine organised and led six bombing attacks against a German strong point and captured the position, together with 50 prisoners and two machine-guns. The enemy at once counter-attacked and regained the lost ground, but Second Lieutenant Haine formed a "block" in his trench and for the whole of the following night maintained his position. Next morning he again attacked and recaptured the position. His splendid example inspired his men during more than 30 hours of continuous fighting.'
By the end of the action 19 men of the battalion had died, including Acting Corporal James Grinsted, who was killed in action on 28th April 1917. James's body was never identified, and he is therefore remembered on the Arras Memorial. The only personal effect that was returned to his mother was his 'grenade cap badge'. In 1917 his mother wrote to the Records Office in an attempt to recover any other personal possessions that might have been stored, but it is not apparent whether any were forthcoming. James was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Rudgwick September 29 1917.
Dear Sir, I have duly returned the enclosed form in the receipt of the cap grenade of my dear and only child Private J Grinsted 2899 HAC. I hope will be something more returned from France. At the time of his death his officer commanding his Platoon informed me all his personal belongings were sent to the base from which they should be forwarded. He had nothing of any value with him, but if there had been a letter - or a few lines - his pipe or purse they would have been a great reassurance to me - his mother.
E L Grinsted
1891, 1901, 1911 Census Returns
Commonwealth War Graves
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Soldier's Personal Service Record
Soldier's Medal Record Index
Battalion War Diary