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James Bennett Elmer

Rank: Serjeant

Lifetime: 1894-1917

Reference: 812

Serjeant James Bennett Elmer (812) of the 2nd Company of the 4th Battalion of the Guards Machine Gun Regiment died of his wounds on 6 December 1917. He was buried at the Abbeville Communal Cemetery No2 on the Somme.

His entry in UK Soldiers who Died in the Great War reveals that he was born in Sheffield and enlisted at Preston, Lancashire, initially into the Scots Guards under service number 8653 subsequently transferring to the Machine Gun Regiment.

He was born sometime between April and June 1894 when his birth was registered at Sheffield. He was, therefore, six at the time of the 1901 Census and living in Sheffield with his parents Bennett Elmer (51), from whom he inherited his distinctive middle name, and Agnes Elmer (50). Also living at home were his three older siblings; Mary Agnes (19); William George (14) and Beatrice (11). All four siblings were living together at 83 Petrie Street, Sheffield when the next Census was completed in 1911. The parents have disappeared. The eldest acted as housekeeper with the three younger children employed (in order of age) as a steel worker, silver burnisher and (in the case of James) as a general labourer.

It is perhaps puzzling that the death of a machine gunner from Sheffield is commemorated on a war memorial in distant Hampton Wick. However, Serjeant Bennett’s inclusion is, perhaps, explained by an enigmatic entry in Kingston’s Marriage Register for the period April until June 1915 from which it appears that a James B Elmer married a certain Elizabeth J R Tandy.

The birth of Elizabeth Jessie Rose Tandy was registered at Kingston twenty two years earlier. In 1901 when the Census was completed she was living at 6 School Lane, Hampton Wick, aged 8 with her mother, Alice Tandy (35) and her six siblings born in rapid succession: Ella (12); Edwin (10); Ada (7); Robert (5); Francis (4) and Alice (2). By this time the family must have been living for at least 7 years in Hampton Wick as the four younger children had been born in the village unlike Elizabeth and her older siblings who were Kingston born. Like many of her contemporaries, Elizabeth moved out of her family home to go into service. The 1911 Census records her as working as a servant for the Denniford family at Cotehele , 17 Oxford Road, Teddington. We shall never know the circumstances of her meeting with Serjeant Elmer or what happened after she was subsequently widowed.

We know from his obituary in The Surrey Comet dated 15 December 1917, in which he is referred to as “Sergt Instructor JB Elmer”, that he died as a result of wounds received in the head at the Battle of Cambrai on 27 November 1917. His obituary gives his address as Rose Cottage, Seymour Rd, Hampton Wick and says that his father-in-law, Mr Tandy, was employed as the caretaker of the Girls’ and Infants’ School in Hampton Wick.

According to a family story handed down to his Great- Great-Nephew, Serjeant Elmer was responsible for a modification to his machine gun which earned him a small bonus to his pay.

In addition to the Memorial at Hampton Wick Serjeant Elmer is also commemorated on the Memorial on the altar at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Marie in his native Sheffield, according to the Imperial War Museum’s records: IWM (WMR 27498-683588).

The first phase of this Project is to gather information about the men commemorated on the Hampton Wick War Memorial who fought in the Great War, also known as World War I, WWI or the First World War.

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