Sidney James was a stock room hand in a Coalville elastic web factory who joined the navy during the Second World War. His ship was sunk and 469 men died, yet Sid survived. He married Tan Yard born Kath Pickering and they lived on St George’s Hill.
James Family Tree
In three generations the James family moved from West Wiltshire agriculture labourer, through Somerset railway engine driver to Coalville wagon works labourer.
- Agricultural labourer Eli James was born in Broughton Gifford, Wiltshire in 1827 (1990s locals referred to the village as “Gander Land” because of the geese). He married Bradford-on-Avon born Louisa and moved first to Limpley Stoke, then over the county boundary to Monkton Coombe, Bath, Somerset.
- Frederick Eli James was the fifth of Eli and Louisa’s nine children and was born in Monkton Coombe. He became a railway fireman then a railway engine driver. Most of Frederick Eli’s seven children remained in the Bath / West Wiltshire area.
- Arthur James was the fourth of Frederick Eli’s seven children and was the one who moved to Leicestershire. He cycled to Coalville, lodged at the Stamford and Warrington hotel and took a shine to the barmaid, Frances Olivia Tivey. By 1911 he was a labourer at Stablefords Wagon Works, married to Frances and had a seven month old son; they lived in Ravenstone. They later moved to 14 Mantle Lane, Coalville and had two more children, the youngest being Sidney Arthur James.
Sidney Arthur James – Navy Hero
Coalville born Sidney Arthur James was named after his uncle and father. He was six years younger than his sister Gladys, which is hardly surprising as his father was in the army during the First World War.
In 1939 Sidney was 19 years old, living at 14 Mantle Lane with his parents , Gladys and her husband Albert Stock. Sidney had a mundane job as a stockroom hand at the nearby elastic web factory. On the 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and Sid’s life was to change dramatically.
Sid’s father remembered the horrors of serving in the trenches and advised his son to choose a different military service to the army. Sid therefore enlisted with the navy on the 12th December 1939. In February 1940 he joined the crew of HMS Galatea, a light cruiser. The Galatea ferried troops to Norway in April 1940 and evacuated them after shortly after. In May 1940 the Galatea was shelling German tanks outside Dunkirk.
The Galatea was involved in the sinking of the pocket battleship the Bismarck in May 1941. It then sailed in icy waters with the arctic convoys. The Galatea saw service off Gibraltar, Durban, Alexandria (Egypt) and Malta.
At midnight on the 14th December 1941 HMS Galatea was sunk by three German torpedoes. Sid was in the twin 4in director at the highest spot of the ship. He had to leap for his life into the Mediterranean, four hours later he was rescued by the destroyer HMS Griffin.
On returning to the UK via New York, Sid underwent submarine training. When in Scotland he made an urgent trip home just in time before his mother died. Sid joined the U-class submarine HM Unswerving. Based in Malta it took numerous tours under the minefields to patrol the German occupied Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. After sinking a destroyer and another ship the Unswerving had to suffer the pounding of 42 depth charges while in total silence mode. In October 1944 the Unswerving sunk a German Troop ship.
Before the war Sid had worked for Clutsom and Kemp Ltd, Elastic Belt and Garter Manufacturers, Highfield Street, Coalville. This is where he met Kathleen Pickering, the girl he married in 1945.
Sid left the navy and returned to Clutsom and Kemp, but the mundane job left him feeling depressed. At various times Sid worked at a coal mine, brickworks, in the building trade and as a driver. Sid and Kath lived on St George’s Hill and had one son.
In 1991 Sid made contact with Alfred Neusser, a survivor of the German troop ship Berta sunk by the Unswerving in 1944. They became friends and Alfred holidayed with the James family in Swannington in 1992, later that year Sid and Kath holidayed with Alfred and his wife at their Florida home.
From modest beginnings to amazing and heroic achievements in times of adversity, Sid typifies the extraordinary ordinary people of Swannington.