b. 12/06/1894 Bellurbet, County Cavan, Ireland. d. 07/05/1918 Cloughjordan, Ireland.
James Somers (1894-1918) was hailed as Tipperary’s first VC recipient of the Great War. In fact, although his family moved to Cloughjordan before the war, he was born in Church Street, Belturbet, County Cavan on 12th June 1894, the son of Robert and Charlotte (nee Boyre). Somers’ father was sexton of the town’s Protestant Church and his mother had been previously employed as a parlour maid.
Somers’ first occupation after schooling was as a footman in Bantry House. Domestic service, however, did not appear to be to his liking, and on 14th January 1913 he joined the Special Reserve of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. During the early days of the war, he served with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Belgium and France. He was severely wounded during the great retreat from Mons. The precise nature of his injuries are unclear. One report refers to a shrapnel wound to his knee and another quotes him as having “stopped three bullets”. Whatever the truth, it saw him evacuated back to England, and he spent Christmas 1914 with his parents in Ireland.
Transferred to the 1st Battalion, Somers went through all the early fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula, surviving, unscathed until the action on 1st-2nd July 1915. On 1st/2nd July 1915, at Gallipoli, Turkey, when, owing to hostile bombing, some of his troops had retired from a sap, Sergeant Somers remained alone there until a party brought up bombs. He then climbed over into the Turkish trench and bombed the Turks with great effect. Later on, he advanced into the open under heavy fire and held back the enemy by throwing bombs into their flank until a barricade had been established. During this period, he frequently ran to and from his trenches to obtain fresh supplies of bombs.
Like so many of his comrades who were awarded the VC, it brought him brief fame. Among the many gifts he was presented with were an illuminated address and £240 raised by the people living in and around Tipperary. The climax of his triumphant homecoming came on 14th October 1915, when he travelled to Buckingham Palace to receive his VC from King George V.
Little is recorded of the remainder of James’ war. On 1st April 1917, he transferred into the Royal Army Service Corps and was given a new Army number. It can only be speculated that this was a consequence of the war wounds he received at Gallipoli. What is certain is that he served for a spell on the Western Front. By the spring of 1918, however, Sergeant Somers was back in Ireland. From the evidence which is available, it is almost certain he had suffered a breakdown in health, probably the result of gas poisoning whilst in France. James died at his parents’ home in Cloughjordan on 7th May 1918 with his death reported as “due to lung trouble contracted in France some months ago.” His family, however, maintained that he died in an accident. They claimed that some months before his death, he had returned to Ireland as an instructor. Whilst demonstrating the use of gas, there was a leaking cylinder and he received irreparable lung damage.
Sergeant Somers was buried with full military honours in Modreeny Church of Ireland cemetery. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasps, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His medals are not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: ST KIERNANS CHURCH, CLOUGHJORDAN, COUNTY TIPPERARY, IRELAND.
War Illustrated, 18th September 1915
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin (Thomas Stewart)