THE stories of the brave men who took to the battlefields to defend king and country is something which has fascinated us for many years as we try to imagine the horrors they must have faced – many at a very young age.
Private 6920 James Nuttall, of the North Staffordshire Regiment, is no exception and when he died only two months after taking to the battlefields he died a hero.
Now his family has shared his remarkable journey to mark the centenary of World War One.
Private Nuttall is believed to be the first soldier from Uttoxeter to have lost his life on the battlefields in World War One but he died a hero – there is no disputing that.
At only 27, he died only two months after the start of the Great War when he was killed in action at the Chapelle D'Armentieres on October 21, 1914.
But it is how he died that showed his incredible bravery after he ran his bayonet through a German officer during a very close engagement – only to be cut by the officer’s sword as he was dying.
Both men rolled into the trench dead.
On the night which cut short the young life, Private Nuttall, of Eaton Street, Uttoxeter, was one of eight men in a trench at 11pm when 50 Germans and three officers came up to his trench.
According to the Advertiser, in its edition on November 18, 1914, the ‘Staffordshire men fought splendidly’ despite being greatly outnumbered by the Germans.
The report states: “The Germans lost three officers and nine men killed and one wounded, but they found the latter dead some distance away the next morning.
“J Nuttall was the only Englishman killed but the section had two slightly wounded.”
The sword used in the battle was kept at Lichfield Cathedral for many years before it was handed over to the North Staffordshire Regiment where it is still to this day, preserved as a trophy to his bravery in the First Battalion Officer’s Mess.
This was the second time the brave soldier had found himself embroiled in war after previously fighting in India but he left the army and led a more settled life for a couple of years, only to return at the start of the war as one of the first Reservists to leave Uttoxeter to rejoin his regiment.
In the meantime, he took up a position with the Leighton Ironworks in Uttoxeter.
In a letter dated October 23, 1914 to his sister Helen Foster, who he was living with at the time of his death, Major GE Leman (commanding 13th Coy), said: “He was killed in a sharp little night-affair we had the night before last.
“His section were very steady and fought well, and I am sorry to lose a good soldier; and on behalf of all ranks of my company I beg to offer you my deepest sympathy.
“We buried his body in field about a mile due east of a village called Armentieres and his grave is marked with a cross.”
However, his grave must have been destroyed and the location lost during subsequent battles because he is now not recorded as have no known place of rest.
This was not the first time Private Nuttall graced the pages of the Advertiser, but not for his heroic fighting skills.
He was also a keen footballer and played almost every position on the pitch while playing for Uttoxeter Town between 1912 and 1913 and in 1913 and 1914 he captained the Uttoxeter Territorial team.
He was said to be a popular with the players and supporters and in fact he made almost every edition of the Advertiser in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of the war.
Raymond Pritchard, who married the soldier’s great niece Jean and lives in Wales, said: “He has always been revered to as a hero in the family since his death in World War One, especially when he came about how he died.
“He was killed defending the trench and killed a German officer. We only really first heard about it 10 years ago when we were researching for our family tree.
“We travelled to Lichfield to see the sword but we were informed that the army had it now. We then did not have time to go hunting for it.
“He is definitely considered a bit of hero by the family.”
Private Nuttall was Uttoxeter born and bred. He was born in Stone Road before moving to live with his sister Mrs Foster in Eaton Street. His nephew was Harold Foster who was a popular face in the town as a master sign writer, painter and decorator.