James Greenhalgh was born on February 11, 1897 in the port city of Ancud on Chiloé Island, Chile. His father, Daniel Greenhalgh, was employed by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and later became the chief of claims at the port of Valparaiso. Upon his father’s death, James and his older brother William came back to England and were adopted by their uncle John Ralph Greenhalgh, the head teacher of a school in Audenshaw and a member of the Lancashire Education Committee.
By 1911, James and William were living in Audenshaw and were both employed as Fitters at W.J. Bates & Co. Engineering Works in Denton, James as a 14-year-old apprentice. In February 1914, the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment was under strength and so a big recruiting drive at Ashton Town Hall was organized for Saturday February 14. It was widely advertised and James decided to beat the rush and attested on February 9th when he was just 2 days short of his 17th birthday. At 5ft 9” tall he was bigger than many of the recruits who would be attesting at the weekend and after 3 years of living with his uncle and aunt, both school teachers, he was better educated.
At some point after he attested, and before the outbreak of war, he changed from manual to clerical work being employed in the accounting department of Beyer Peacock’s engine works at Gorton. Outside of work he was a Sunday school teacher at the Wesleyan Sunday School, Hooley Hill, and a member of the Y.M.C.A. Denton Road, Audenshaw.
At the outbreak of war, the battalion was mobilised and on August 20, 1914 they marched into Chesham Fold Camp, Bury. Throughout August around 100 new recruits were added, many of whom had previously served with the battalion in the pre-war years. On September 1, 1914 another 100+ men were added, many of whom were friends and family of the existing members of the battalion. On Wednesday September 9 the battalion entrained to Southampton and at midnight the following day sailed for Egypt. In Egypt the men were drilled, trained and worked hard to build fitness and endurance. Additionally, the old eight Company model (A-H) was replaced with a four Company model (A-D), 4 platoons in each Company and 4 sections in each platoon.
The battalion landed at Gallipoli under shell fire on Sunday May 9, 1915 and at that time James Greenhalgh was an 18-year-old Lance-Corporal with “B” Company. In June he was severely wounded in the neck and shoulder by a Turkish bullet while deepening a sap and was medically evacuated to hospital in Malta. After he recovered, he returned to Gallipoli and was subsequently promoted to Corporal. In November he was promoted to sergeant and later that month was again wounded, this time not so severely, when he was struck in the face by shrapnel. He was treated in the field and did not leave the battalion.
By late December, the Allies made the decision to evacuate the Peninsula and operations switched to disguising the intent to leave through a number of small distracting operations. The battalion war diary for December 19, 1915 is unusually expansive:
Morning quiet. In the afternoon a small action took place at 14:15, a large mine was exploded about 30 yards from the N.E. corner of FUSILIER BLUFF and immediately after 5 smaller mines. It was expected that this mine would form a large crater and a party was told off to occupy this. The party consisted of 16 bombers, a working party under 2nd Lieut. GRAY and 26 men of ‘B’ Coy. All went exactly as ordered and the men went over the parapet in a splendid manner, but unfortunately the mine failed to form a crater and when the men got out there was no cover at all and the Turkish trench being intact the enemy fired deliberately from loop holes at the party. 2nd Lieut. GRAY stayed out until it became evident that nothing could be done when he gave the order to retire. The enemy shelled the MULE TRENCH and our Support Line very heavily whilst the action was in progress but did little damage. Our casualties amounted to 3 killed, 1 missing, 11 wounded. The night passed quickly.
In James’ own words (as published in the Ashton Reporter on July 15):
“It was on the 19th December, 1915, I was ordered to take a party of men over the top, and we got to within ten yards of the Turkish trench. At the same time there was a mine blown up. It should have made a big hole in the front of the Turkish trench. The intention was for us to have got in this hole, but when we got to the place no hole had been made, and we had to lie in the open, and the Turks potting at us from ten yards away. It was a good job the Turks were nervous, or else there would have been none of us left to tell the tale.
The object was for us to get in the crater and build it up with sandbags, and then our bombers could have bombed the Turks out of their trench, but it didn’t come off as we expected. Anyway, we all got back to our trench except one poor lad who was killed.
Lance-Corporal Davies, D.C.M. was with the same party of men.”
In fact, when 2nd Lieut. Alfred Gray gave the order to retire, Sgt. Greenhalgh and L/Cpl. Davis stayed exposed, just 10-12 yards away from the Turkish trench, and covered the other men’s withdrawal while under heavy fire, only returning to safety themselves after their party had been able to return to the Allied trenches.
1623 Sjt. J. Greenhalgh, 9th Bn. Manch. R., T.F.
For conspicuous gallantry when covering a retirement under very heavy fire at a few yards range.
The annotated D.C.M. listing does not provide much additional information but the long-forgotten administrative code of “B1-131” directly links this award with that of Lance-Corporal Davis.
2/Lt. Alfred Gray, who was commanding the small group of Manchesters, was eventually awarded the Military Cross, in May 1919, for “gallant and distinguished services in the Field” but there is little doubt that this action, on this day, was a significant contributing factor to his award.
James Greenhalgh served with the 9th Battalion for the duration of the war, serving in Egypt and France, and was demobilised on February 27, 1919. On April 9, 1925 he married Emily Louisa Mantle in Ashton and by 1939 they had moved to Liverpool and ran a small grocery shop, on Finvoy Road. Eventually, they retired to a small bungalow close to the sea at Abergel, North Wales. James Greenhalgh, D.C.M. died on April 17, 1976, a month before the death of his wife. He was 79 years old.