Private James Cakebread

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Pte J Cakebread
2nd Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Killed in action, 25.4.1915
Age, 19

James Cakebread was an early volunteer, enlisting two days short of his 19th birthday which fell on 10 September 1914; he would not live to celebrate his 20th. His family moved to Weybridge during or after 1911; the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records the address as 7, Yew Cottages, New Road. James was born in Islington, London in 1895 and was baptised at St. Jude’s Church, Grays Inn Road on 29 September. His parents James Cakebread (b. c. 1866, Sawbridgeworth, Herts.) and Emily Amelia Farthing (b. c. 1866, Yeovil, Somerset) married at St. Anne’s Church, Islington on 4 September 1892. James’ grandfathers, Daniel Cakebread and Joseph Edmund Farthing were, respectively, a carpenter and joiner and a glove cutter. The young James’ first home was at 29, Pollard House North, Camden.

By 1900 the family had moved to 5, Wharfdale Road, Kings Cross, Islington and James began his education at Winchester Street School on 10 July in that year. James Snr was working as an upholsterer’s labourer and a daughter, Florence, had been born in 1899. Eleven years later they were still living at the same address which was a tenement house where they occupied two rooms. The father was now a carpet layer attached to a hotel and the younger James had started work as an office boy in a jewellery office. However, when he enlisted in 1914 he described himself as an engineer. He stood five feet, seven inches tall, had blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.

James was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment, a regular army unit which returned to Britain from India in December 1914. They were then based at Winchester where they mobilised for war which was completed on 17 January 1915. The Battalion embarked on SS Maidan on 18 January and arrived at Le Havre the next day. According to James’ medals record he did not enter the theatre of war until 23 February. Before he joined his comrades they were sent to Hazebrouck and then on to Ypres on 4 February; they were employed in carrying water and rations to the fire trenches when a man was wounded – their first casualty of the war. Between 7-17 February the battalion was in trenches SSE of Ypres and the casualties started to increase especially in trying to recapture a trench on the 15th and 16th when 7 were killed, 37 wounded and 14 reported missing. The war diary also records that one officer and fifty-five men joined the Battalion at this point. James was most likely among the fifty-five, experiencing his first taste of war when they went into trenches east of Kemmel on 22 February. The battalion had also been transferred from the 28th to the 3rd Division.

During March the battalion was in and out of trenches and billets at Lindenhoek, Locre, Dickebusch and St. Eloi all in the SW section of the Ypres Salient. On 10 April they marched through Ypres where the men of the 1st Battalion, East Surreys lined the road as they passed near the Cloth Hall. Their destination was the trenches at Zonnebeke near the eastern flank of the Salient. James and his comrades were back in this location when the Germans launched the second Battle of Ypres on 22 April. Their strategic objective was to take Ypres. On the first day of the battle the fire and support trenches were shelled heavily and the harmful effects of fumes from the shells first noted, this was in fact, chlorine gas for which they were unprepared. The following day the enemy made an attack on the centre of the battalion line; this was repulsed but at the cost of 7 killed and 31 wounded. Heavy shelling continued on 24 April causing 12 deaths and 39 wounded.

The Germans continued their onslaught on 25 April starting with shrapnel fire from 5 to 9am. This was followed by a heavy bombardment on the trenches including, once again, the use of choline gas. By noon 4 were dead and 18 wounded. At 1pm the Germans attacked the whole line held by the battalion; they entered three trenches, they were repulsed from two but not the third. The attackers were careful not to mask the loopholes of their own trenches thus keeping open their lines of fire so that the defenders forced to fire over their parapets took heavy casualties. Further attempts to dislodge the Germans from the captured trench in the early hours of the 26th were unsuccessful. James was one of the fatalities on this day of brutal fighting. He may have been dead by noon or he may have perished in the desperate efforts to resist and eject the Germans after their renewed attack. By the end of the Battle on 25 May 1915 the NE boundary of the Salient had been redrawn much closer to Ypres; Zonnebeke was no longer within this boundary. The opposing lines remained fixed until the third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in 1917. Ypres was never taken.

James is commemorated on the Menin Gate (Panel 34) at Ypres (now Ieper) with so many others who have no known grave. His father died between 1911 and 1918. His mother and sister Florence, a shorthand typist, still lived in New Road in 1947.


British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920,
London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1917,
London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932,
London, England, School Admissions and Discharges, 1840-1911,
1939 Register,
Surrey England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962,
Surrey Recruitment Registers, 1908-1933,

Share This:

Leave a Comment