b. 08/09/1897 Preston, Lancashire. d. 24/01/1977 Preston, Lancashire.
James Towers (1897-1977) was born at 8 Wildman Street, Preston, Lancashire on 8th September 1897, the son of James and Betty Towers. At the time of his birth his father was employed as a cotton loomer but he later took up farming at Broughton, in which work he was assisted by young James after he had attended Emmanuel Boys School.
Enlisting underage in the West Lancashire Artillery in July 1915, James was quickly discharged when his true age was established, but he re-enlisted in the 5th Dragoon Guards in August 1916. Subsequently transferred to the infantry, he joined the 2nd Battalion, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), and went to France in December 1916, where his unit formed part of 59th Infantry Brigade, 20th Division.
On 6th October 1918, Towers and his comrades in the 2nd Battalion found themselves holding a railway embankment at Mericourt, three miles south-west of Lens. Under considerable pressure from the enemy, orders were given to retire, an order which failed to reach a platoon in ‘B’ Company as it had become cut-off between the lines of advancing Germans.
A volunteer was called for, a runner to pass on news of the order to retire to the stranded platoon. The first volunteer was killed. Four more volunteers suffered a similar fate in quick succession: James Towers, who had witnessed all five men going down, now stepped forward.
It is said he had a natural sporting ability, the result of leaping dykes and fences on his father’s farm. If so, it was an ability about to serve him well, for the moment he embarked on his seemingly suicidal mission, heavy enfilading machine-gun fire was upon him. Darting from shell-hole to shell-hole, and crawling through wire entanglements, he came across the slumped body of the first volunteer runner - one of his best friends, Private Frank Dunlop.
Undeterred, and hugging the ground, Towers continued on his way until he reached an embankment. Opting for the element of surprise, he broke into a run and leapt over the top, only to land within a few yards of a German machine-gun nest: he landed on his toes and with a few quick bounds disappeared into the mist before the startled Germans had time to react.
Unaware as to the exact location of the missing platoon - ‘The worst part was that I didn’t know just where our chaps were’ - the gallant Cameronian’s persistence eventually paid off, and he dug-in with his comrades for the night. The following day, in the early dawn mist, and making use of his hotly-acquired knowledge of the whereabouts of enemy machine-gun posts, he led the ‘lost platoon’ safely back to the battalion’s positions. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, ‘his valour, determination, and utter disregard of danger,’ had been an inspiring example to all who witnessed it.
Invested with his V.C. by H.M. King George V in the Quadrangle at Buckingham Palace on 8th May 1919, Towers returned to the Palace to attend the V.C. Garden Party in June of the following year. He was also one of 74 V.C. holders who formed a special Guard of Honour for the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey on 11th November 1920.
Having been demobilised in January 1919, Towers returned to his father’s dairy farm at Durton Lane, Broughton. Later, when his father retired, he set up on his own, running a four acre poultry farm and a milk distribution business.
As reported in The Lancashire Daily Post on 12th November 1929, Towers attended the Prince of Wales’s V.C. Dinner held in the House of Lords in November 1929 - ‘With me being a bit plump and red-faced he remembered me as I went up with my menu - “Hello, you here again!” he said’: on reaching his local railway station at 5 a.m. the following morning, Towers walked the three miles to his home and was out on the streets of Preston delivering milk by 7.30 a.m.
Towers also attended the Victory Parade and V.C. Dinner at the Dorchester Hotel in June 1946, and returned to London to take part in the Centenary Review of Holders of the Victoria Cross by Her Majesty the Queen in Hyde Park on 25th June 1956. During the 1960s and 1970s he attended a number of V.C. & G.C. Association memorial services and dinners.
He died at the Royal Infirmary, Preston on 24th January January 1977, aged 79, his last residence having been ‘Mericourt’, Lightfoot Green, Bartle, Preston. He was survived by his wife, Ethel, and his married daughter, Mrs. Marion Castle of Fulwood, Preston.
His funeral was attended by Major Ian Ritchie on behalf of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), a regimental wreath accompanying the coffin. Others who attended included Colonel Bob Rainford and representatives of the Preston Council of Ex-Servicemen, and officials from the V.C. & G.C. Association. His ashes were scattered on the January Plot at New Hall Lane Crematorium.
On 25th March 2015, Towers’ medal group including VC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 were sold at auction at Dix Noonan Webb for a hammer price of £120,000. The purchaser’s identity is not known.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOLD FOR £144,000 AT AUCTION IN MARCH 2015.
BURIAL PLACE: PRESTON CREMATORIUM, PRESTON, LANCASHIRE.
Towers' medals prior to auction in March 2015
Preston Cenotaph (Bernie Blackburn)