b. 03/08/1895 Collon, County Louth, Ireland. d. 06/12/1917 La Vacquerie, France.
James Samuel Emerson (1895-1917) was born on the 3rd August 1895, at Seven Oaks in the village of Collon, six miles from Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland. There is some evidence in the National Archive file that suggest he was born in 1896, but it is known that he was the youngest son of John and Ellen Emerson (nee Wallace) and educated at the local village school and then later at the Mountjoy Secondary School in Dublin, and that after leaving school Emerson, became a clerk.
His eighteenth or nineteenth birthday fell on the day before war broke out and so he enlisted into the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, in Dublin, on the 16th September 1914. His medical revealed that his teeth were in a very poor condition and it was noted in his file that he required treatment on them but he completed his basic training and sailed for France on the 16th April 1915. He served as a machine gunner and was promoted twice but then he wounded at Hooge on the 29th September and evacuated to a hospital in the United Kingdom. When his convalescence was complete on the 24th January 1916 he was posted to the Garrison Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, in Portobello Barracks, now Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin and was there during the Easter Rising. He returned to the 9th Royal Irish Rifles in France on the 28th June 1916 and fought at the Battle of the Somme. On the 7th February 1917, he returned to Lichfield, and began officer cadet training, and upon completion of his course he was posted to the 9th Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as a (Temporary) Second Lieutenant on the 1st August 1917.
On 6 December 1917, during the German counteroffensive after the Battle of Cambrai against the Hindenberg Line, Emerson led his company in a local counterattack attack north of La Vacquerie and cleared 400 yards of trench. Though wounded when he was hit on the head by a bomb which had exploded and blew a hole in the top of his steel helmet, when the enemy attacked in superior numbers he met their attack with eight men, killing many and taking six prisoners. For three hours afterwards, all other officers having become casualties, he remained with his company, refusing to go to the dressing station, and repeatedly repelling bombing attacks. Later, leading his men to repel another attack, he was mortally wounded. His actions inspired his men to hold out until reinforcements arrived.
Following his death, it was discovered that he had made out his will and instructed that any items of property found on his person were to be left to No. 14434 Abraham, W. G., 2nd Machine Gun Section, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, ‘to do with as he already knows’ whose Army service number was only four different from his Emerson’s Riflemans service number 14430 and it is thought that the two men had probably enlisted and trained together in Ireland. Emerson has no known grave and is remembered, along with six other Victoria Cross recipients, on the Cambrai Memorial to the Missing which stands at one end of Louverval War Cemetery.
Brigadier-General Hackett-Payne presented the posthumous VC to his mother on the 3rd April 1918 in a ceremony at the Whitworth Hall in Drogheda, with three of his brothers and an Uncle also in attendance, and as the presentation was made members of the Northumberland Fusiliers, who were lining both sides of the hall came to attention and presented arms. In July 1919, Emerson’s former school, Mountjoy Secondary, published a special edition of their school magazine with a list of the various honours earned by former pupils during the Great War, with Emerson at the head of the list.
The family received his campaign medals, the 1914 – 1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal, and he was commemorated on the Drogheda War Memorial, the cenotaph in front of Collon Church, with a memorial plaque in Mount Temple School, Dublin and his name was included on the family headstone in the Church of Ireland Churchyard, Collon. His name also appears on the Regimental Memorial in St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast and on the VC memorial at Ulster Tower, Thiepval, on the old Somme battlefield. The VC is not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE - ON CAMBRAI MEMORIAL, FRANCE. PANEL 5-6
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin (Aidan Kavanagh)