1914

2nd Lieutenant James Thomas Robinson PASTFIELD

5th Battalion The Middlesex Regiment

(attached 1st Northamptonshire Regiment)

Killed in action 21st December 1914

Commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing, France

Master at the School 1913-1914 

 

James Thomas Robinson Pastfield was the 2nd youngest of 5 children born to John and Elizabeth Pastfield of Exeter.  His father was a Superintendant of an Insurance Agency, and his mother was a housewife.  He had two older sisters, Gladys and Florence, and an older brother John.  James was born on the 21st December 1892.  He also had a younger brother Joseph.


Having completed his education at Exeter School, he then progressed to Keble College, Oxford where he graduated in 1913 with a BA Honours.  Shortly after this he took a post as a teacher at Bloxham School. He lived at 25, Farndon Road in Oxford.


At the outbreak of war, he enlisted at Oxford on the 8th October 1914, and was commissioned into the Middlesex Regiment with immediate effect.  It seems likely that he had served in the OTC whilst at Keble, whihc may have speeded his admission into service. His commission was recorded in the London Gazzette of the 21st November 1914.


There is some confusion as to when Pastfield actually arrived in France with his regiment, as I am in possession of his campaign medals which have attached a clasp to the Mons star, suggesting he arrived prior to midnight on the 23rd November, however his medal index card states he arrived after this date!  


Whilst James was commissioned in the Middlesex Regiment, he found himself attached to the 1st Battalion the Northamptonshire Regiment, presumably as a replacement for the heavy casualties they had suffered in the opening months of the War.  The Battalion War diary for the month of October 1914 has been lost however it states that between the 25th October and the 14th November 1914, the Battalion was in action daily and suffered an appalling casualty rate.  The diary mentions that at roll call on the 14th November the 1st Battalion was only able to parade 2 officers and 300 men from a nominal strength of nearly 700.  Following this mauling, the Battalion rested almost a month near the small French town of Hazebrouck.  During this time, officers were drafted in and it seems likely that James joined the Northamptonshires at this time.


On the morning of the 21st December, the Battalion once again went into action again, presumably this would have been James' first engagement.  The Battalion left Hazebrouck at approximately 7am, and following a four hour march, they stopped for rations near Le Touret.  They marched a further 4 hours towards Rue de Bois, being guided by an officer of the 2nd Ghurka's, where they received orders to launch a night attack in company with the 1st Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.  Their objective was to retake trenches which had been lost to the Germans the previous night, about 1/2 mile south of Rue de Bois.  The diary of the Loyal North Lancashires records that information about the exact location and number of Germans was "somewhat vague".  


At 7pm they attacked, the Northants to the north of the village, the Loyal North Lancs to the south. The men were carrying 170 rounds of ammunition, iron rations and were ordered to leave packs bheind.  By this time, the night had fallen and the weather closed in, and the attack started in freezing rain.  The two regiments attacked on a front of 300 yards with fixed bayonets. They immediately ran into heavy rifle fire coming from the edge of an orchard, and promptly charged the enemy.  They managed in the next 3 hours to retake 3 lines of trenches and advance over 400 metres.  The Germans counter attacked with bombs and rifle fire but successive attacks were beaten off.  The 1st Northamptons took the brunt of the onslaught to the north of the position.


By 10pm, the trenches had been retaken but casualties were heavy, mainly coming from artillery fire located in woods to the east of Rue de Bois.  The night remained wet and cold and the constant artillery fire prevented packs or rations being brought up. One can only imagine how miserable this must have been.


The following account of what happened was provided by a soldier wounded in this engagement and was passed to the school.


"We left Hazebrouck on the morning of the 21st in motor buses, and we went to La Bassée.  From there we marched some 3 or 4 miles to some cross roads and we entered some fields.  At about 6pm we were ordered to take some trenches.  Our Captain has been wounded and we were hesitating, looking round for officers when Lt Pastfield and his young friend Lt Wainwright said "Come on lads, we'll lead you!"  They did so, and shortly after our attack Lt Wainwright fell badly wounded.  Lt Pastfield went on and after some murderous fighting we took the trench.  The Germans got into a position about 15 yards away.  Lt Pastfield was feeling faint from a wound he had received and a Lance Cpl begged him to go back and seek attention.  He refused saying he needed to find Lt Wainwright.  He went out to where Lt Wainwright lay, and reeling from lack of blood, he staggered and presenting an easy target, a German shot him through the head."


Lieutenant Wainwright, was in fact 2nd Lieutenat Godfrey Chaucer Wainwright, who died the following day from his wounds. The 1st Northamptons lost 3 officers and 60 men, killed and wounded during the attack on the night of the 21st.


Further bad luck was to strike the Pastfield family when Joseph who was serving with the 5/13th Battalion the Middlesex Regiment was killed in action on 9th September 1918 in Palestine.


James Pastfield's body was never found and he is commemorated on the magnificent Le Touret Memorial to the Missing, next to that of 2nd Lieutenant Wainwright.

 

 

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By kind permission of the Warden and Fellows of Keble College, Oxford.

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