On Saturday morning, 11th November, 1899, detachments of the 13th Hussars, Royal Engineers, and half of the 61st Battery (howitzers) Royal Field Artillery arrived in LIverpool, and boarded the transport S.S. Montfort at Harrington Dock. The artillery had travelled from Woolwich, and the Hussars and Engineers from Aldershot. The weather was poor, strong winds and frequent heavy showers of rain, but a large crowd of spectators were in attendance. .
Harrington Dock, 1909
. ....The Elder Dempster Line, owner of the Montfort, provided a substantial breakfast for all the soldiers, and the company also put two half-pound tins of tobacco on the ship for each man. The Howitzer section numbered three officers - Captain R. C. Coates and Lieutenants A. L. R. Mullock and J. H. C. King - and 97 non-commissioned officers and men, accompanied by 82 horses and three guns. The guns were 5 inch breechloaders, 49 inches long, and weighing over 18 hundredweight, and were to be used for firing lyddite shells. ....Shortly after four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, the gangway was lowered, the troopship released from its moorings, and it then proceeded into the river. .
The S.S. Montfort, photographed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, circa 1900, with troops on their way to South Africa
. ...."An exciting incident occurred as the vessel was passing out of the Harrington Dock. An artilleryman named James Gaskin, in the excitement of the moment and in waving farewell to his many friends assembled on the quay, fell into the water. Captain W. D. Jones (master of the troopship) threw a lifebuoy, Mr. Gande (chief steward), threw a rope, and similar action was also taken by other people on the transport, but in consequence of the roughness of the water and the high winds none of these reached Gaskin. He was, however, able to swim, but, seeing his dangerous position, a man named Patrick Murphy jumped into the water from the quay, and he was followed by Edward House and Daniel Fell, who also rendered assistance. A boatman named Johnson put off in his boat, in which the whole of the men were conveyed to the dock steps. Superintendent Breese, who with Inspector Clingan, were in charge of the police arrangements, received Gaskin, and in the meantime Mr. A. L. Jones had engaged a tug, in which the artilleryman was conveyed to the Montfort. A good deal of excitement was caused by the incident, and the plucky action of the men who jumped into the water to save Gaskin was greeted with ringing cheers by the troops on the transport." ....The Montfort dropped anchor in the River Mersey, and remained there until Monday morning, the 13th. Once the gale had eased off, she set sail to pick up more troops, calling at Queenstown, then Gibraltar, and on to South Africa. ....The Montfort was torpedoed and sunk in October 1918, 170 miles west of Bishop Rock, Cornwall. Liverpool Mercury, Tuesday, 14th November, 1899
Any more information on James Gaskin? He appears to have survived the war.
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Smethwick wrote: Enlisted under an alias, court martialled in Pretoria in September 1901 & ended up with 56 days IHL and served in WW1 - service number 73381.
During the same library session that I came across Gaskin, I found a report from a Police Court that about ten reservists had made an application to the court that "when they first joined their regiment they, like thousands of others, enlisted in an assumed name," so that on being called up, to ensure that their dependents at home would be able to receive relief, they had to go to the court, make a declaration that they had enlisted in a wrong name, and give their true name.
James Joseph Gaskin was born (18th March 1868) and raised in Liverpool. His father, William, was a painter and decorator. The 1881 Census shows the family, parents and 5 children, all born in Liverpool, living in Gildart Street in central Liverpool and 14 year old James working as an errand boy. The family apear to have had Irish Catholic roots.
In Liverpool on 10th May 1889 he enlisted in the Royal Artillery under the name of Thomas Hughes. Why he did this and how soon he was rumbled it is not known.
He gave his occupation as “Painter” but made out he was two years younger than he really was – age given = 19 years 5 months, actual age 21 years 2 months. At 5 feet 5½ inches he was of average height for the time but a bit overweight at 12 stone 5 lbs. As the above extract shows he joined his regiment in Preston the day after he attested.
He was allocated the rank of Driver and service number 73381. Less than 2 months later, on 3rd July 1889 he was “Absent Without Leave” and by late August he was considered to have “Deserted”. James “re-joined” the regiment on 29th August 1890 and was tried and imprisoned. His imprisonment seems to have lasted just over a month as in early October 1890 he “Returned to Duty” but with the rank of Gunner.
On 12th December 1890 he embarked for India where he was to stay for 6 years. His service record indicates he was not involved in any specific campaigns and did not qualify for the Indian General Service Medal. He had ongoing disciplinary issues whilst in India and in 1891 was court-martialled three times. The nature of his offences are never given but each time they resulted in imprisonment – April 1891 = 38 days, May 1891 = 15 days, June 1891 = 85 days. Between August 1891 and September 1895 he seems to have managed to keep a clean sheet. On 2nd October 1895 James was again court martialled and sentenced to 9 days imprisonment but immediately on release was again in trouble resulting in 6 months (183 days) imprisonment. In December 1896 James returned to England having spent 11 months of his 6 years in India in prison.
Back home James still seems to have been at odds with his superior officers and was court martialled in both June & July 1897 resulting in 10 days and 42 days imprisonment respectively. On 4th September 1897 he was discharged to the Army Reserve some 8 and a half years after he enlisted but for over 2 years and 1 month of this “service” he had either been a deserter or in prison.
On 8th October 1899, despite his previous disciplinary record, James was recalled to service but before he left for South Africa he married a Londoner, Charlotte Nutman on 31st October 1899 in Woolwich.
Above Berenice has reported his dramatic embarkment for South Africa during November 1899 in Liverpool. The reasons for his 6 previous court martials are not given but one has to wonder if the demon drink was involved and if it also contributed to his unsteadiness on the quayside.
I would like to be able to report that his disciplinary record whilst at war was better but I cannot and whilst in South Africa he was court martialled 4 times – December 1899 = imprisoned for 16 days, 2 whilst awaiting trial and 14 as the sentence; September 1900 = 5 plus 14; November 1900 = 2 plus 56; August 1901 = 7 plus 112. The location of his court martials is not given in his service records but another record indicates the last was carried out in Pretoria. For the last two “Hard Labour” is mentioned as part of the punishment and for the third he is also fined £1.
He was back in England on 10th May 1902 having spent about 2 years and 4 months on South African soil of which 10 months were spent in prison.
Medal Rolls for the 61st Battery, Royal Field Artillery show he was awarded both the King’s & Queen’s South Africa Medals. The first with both clasps and the second with 6 clasps – Belmont, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith & Laing’s Nek. So although a third of his time in South Africa was spent in effect out of action he was involved in some of the major action and was at liberty at the time of the Battles of Belmont and Tugela Heights - the latter means he could be featured in the photo posted by Rob D – he would have been 32 at the time.
He was fully discharged from the army, still holding the rank of Gunner, on 3rd September 1902 having gained the distinction of being court-martialled 10 times during 11 years of service.
James (43) & Charlotte (35) can be found on the 1911 Census living in Southam Street, North Kensington, London. Also listed are their four children – William (7), James (5), Louisa (4) and Jessie Maria (1) – the youngest is named after her paternal grandmother. Incredibly they are all living in one room. James tries to be helpful in completing the form – having given his occupation as “Builders Labourer” he adds “Erecting new buildings or repairing old buildings”.
This slightly incredible tale now becomes even more incredible – on 1th August 1915, 48 year old and 10 times court-martialled, James, enlisted in the Royal Engineers and is given the service number 110635. This time he was truthful about his age when there might have been more motive for appearing younger than he really was. He gave Charlotte as his next of kin with her address being Handover Dwellings, Middle Row, Kensington (I suspect Hanover Dwellings is more likely!) Their four children are listed with their dates of birth. James gave his occupation as “Labourer”.
As is often the case – the records are incomplete and difficult to decipher. It appears he was allocated to “O” Company, 1st Labour Battalion, Royal Engineers and embarked for France as part of the British Expeditionary Force on 21st August 1915. On 18th November 1916 he was admitted to No.1 Australian General Hospital at Rouen and on 29th November transferred to No.5 British General Hospital. From there he was invalided to Blighty on 8th December 1916. On 27th January 1917 he was discharged at Southampton as “No longer being physically fit for war service”.
Things now become bizarre as there are a couple more sheets attached to his WW1 service records which appear to say he re-enlisted in the Royal Engineers on 1st March 1917 (still aged 48!) and was given a new service number. He was then posted to “Farlington” (which appears these days to be part of Portsmouth) where he again became a casualty and was finally discharged on 19th March 1919 from the Crystal Palace Dispersal station.
Although Charlotte had died (date unknown) before the start of WW2, James can be found on the 1939 Register living at 115 Kensal Road as a “Retired Builder’s Labourer”. His Death Certificate (already posted) shows he was still living there when he died in St Charles Hospital, North Kensington on 3rd March 1943, just shy of his 75th birthday.
So, what can I say about James? He served 3 Monarchs on the battlefield (including the Battles of Belmont & Tugela Heights) but seems to have had a problem with the discipline of the Army although there is no evidence of misconduct during his service of King George V.
The following user(s) said Thank You: BereniceUK, Rob D