SKELTON - IN - CLEVELAND
IN HISTORY

E-mails. Page 21.

JAMES ROOKS. A FIRST WORLD WAR WRONG - FINALLY PUT RIGHT.


The Rooks brothers in 1899. Thomas, James right and Alan in front.
At the census of 1901, James Rooks, aged 11, was living at 8 Thomas St and had been born at 1 Back Lane, Skelton.
His father, who was a Sandstone quarryman, came from Danby, Yorks and his mother, Mary from Gt Ayton, Yorks.
He had 4 older sisters - Mary A Gott, aged 26, who was married and lived at 18 South Tce, Skelton;
Hannah Jane, aged 24, who was a domestic servant at York.;
Isabella, aged 22, who was a nurse domestic at 11 Nevern Sq, S Kensington, London;
and Ada, aged 20, still living at home.
His four brothers were - Edward 18, an elementary school teacher; William 16, a farm labourer; Thomas 13, a newsboy; and Alan aged 8.
Thomas fought in the War with the 17th Bn, Northumberland Fusiliers and survived.
Alan was killed in the Battle of the Somme, on the 14th September 1916, fighting with the 6th Bn, Yorkshire Regt.

Before the War James was a painter and decorator and he enlisted in the Army at Saltburn, N Yorks Recruiting Office on the 22nd January 1916.
On the 9th February he was medically examined at Richmond, N Yorkshire.
He stood 5 ft 10ins, but weighed only 9 stone and had suffered pneumonia in 1915.


James Rooks' Silver War Badge.

New Skelton Cemetery.



Even though he was found to have flat feet and bunions, he was posted to the Grenadier Guards 5th Reserve Battalion at Base Depot, Caterham, Surrey.
Some idiot, so called doctor, at this point caused this lad's future misery and death.
He became 25468 Private Rooks.
How such a slight lad with foot problems coped with the rigorous Guards' drilling and War training of the time is unimaginable.
Obviously he did not, as by July 1916 he was in the County of London War Hospital, Epsom. and was there until the 10th January 1917.
Nevertheless, such was the demand for men, at the time, that he was posted to France on the 29th May 1917 to the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards.
Presumably he went through the process of the "Bull Ring", which was aimed at brutalising men, so that they could kill at close quarters with cold steel.
On the 12th June 1917 he was posted to No 7 Entrenching Battalion.
On the 24th July he rejoined the 4th Bn Grenadier Guards.
At the end of August he was sent back to the Base Depot at Harfleur and classified as physically unfit with tuberculosis.
By October he was back in England with a reserve Battalion and by December 1917 he was in the Queen Alexandra Barrack Hospital with chronic inflammation of the lung.
He was given a medical discharge on the 7th May 1918, his condition being attributed to the effects of Military Service, among which "exposure" was mentioned.
As well as the British War and Victory medals he was awarded the Silver War Badge, shown above.
This Badge was issued to the many thousands of service personnel who were discharged as physically unfit to serve either through illness or injury.
It is said that the badge was issued so that holders could wear it and avoid the charge of cowardice, that was often levelled at men of fighting age who remained at home.

Owen Rooks, his wife Kath, daughter Claire and Grandaughter Jenna at the new headstone for his Uncle James.
James managed to obtain a job at one of the local ironstone mines in the undemanding role of a timekeeper.
On the 24th April 1919, he decided life was not worth living and hanged himself.
He was buried at New Skelton by his family, without a headstone and without the pride held in others who had given their lives in the War.
His name was not included on any of the local War Memorials nor yet acknowledged by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

For the past four or five years James' nephew, Owen Rooks, has been campaigning to have his Uncle recognised as a casualty of the First World War.
Owen spent all of his boyhood in Thomas St and John St, New Skelton and work took him to Sunderland, where he now lives.

Finally, after countless messages and delays, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have agreed to add James to their roll of honour on the Internet and a new headstone, made in France, has been erected in New Skelton Cemetery.
The efforts to have his name added to Skelton War Memorial were even more difficult.
Incredibly, no one, to start with, would acknowledge responsibility for the Memorial, which was paid for in the early 1920's by public subscription and funded mostly by the Whartons of Skelton Castle.
Again, after four years of research and seemingly dead-end messages by Owen, the goal has been achieved.
Skelton Parish Council, in the shape of their current secretary Liz Sharpe, came to the rescue.
Not only has James' name been added next to his brother Alan's, but the Council have agreed to clean up the Memorial, repaint each name and take care of it in the future.
On the 15th October 2008 a celebration was held in the Cemetery and at the War Memorial.
The Rev Graham Pacey, Vicar of Skelton, attended and had kindly arranged a service for a somewhat unusual occasion.
Councillors Brian and Margaret Briggs had also been invited and confirmed the future attention that will be given to the War Memorial.
This has already started with a poppy decorated railing to protect the wreaths of Remembrance Day.
Several others who had helped Owen in his quest to have his Uncle James properly remembered were also in attendance.

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