A humble war hero and VC holder

PUBLISHED: 06:15 29 March 2015

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As a boy, he wore his grandfather's medals with pride. Today, Colin Kingman tells the story of a man who overcame adversity to become a Victoria Cross holder.

Colin’s membership of the Royal British Legion (RBL) Sidbury and Sidford branch was inspired by his war hero grandfather, James Huntley Knight.

The Sidford resident remembers a generous man, who would give people the shirt off his back, but the heroic story follows a struggle to overcome a troubled childhood.

James Knight was born on November 5, 1878. His father, Huntley Knight was a tailor who died before James’ birth, leaving his 20-year-old, illiterate mother, Alma, to cope alone.

When he was 12, James ended up at the Dorset Juvenile Reformatory, or Boys Home Farm at Longmead, near Milborne.

Although it is not known why he came to be enrolled in the school, it is believed an unhappy home life, with a mother who did not want him took its toll.

The boys’ home was run along strict military lines and when James left at the age of 14, he enlisted into the Kings Liverpool Regiment as a boy soldier on the same day.

In 1897, James’s battalion moved to South Africa. It was there, on August 21, 1900, when James, by then a 21-year-old corporal in the Mounted Infantry Company, was taking part in operations against a superior force of Boers.

He and four others were surrounded and attacked at their post; he stood his ground and directed his men to withdraw, eventually retreating himself, along with two injured members of his group. He left one man in a place of safety and carried the other for almost two miles, under enemy attack the whole time.

For his outstanding courage and leadership, he was immediately promoted to Sergeant and later decorated with the Victoria Cross by General Lord Kitchener at Pretoria on June 8, 1902. The family believe he received the last Victoria Cross awarded in the reign of Queen Victoria.

Upon his return to England, James married Carrie Ellen Smith, a Dorset girl, in St Andrew’s Church, Milborne. They had four girls and two boys - one of whom died in infancy – their third daughter, Agnes, is Colin’s mother.

James rose quickly through the ranks in his military career and was awarded a host of medals for bravery.

He was wounded in the Somme in June 1916 and was finally discharged from the army, going on to lead an active and involved life in Dorset, where he founded his local RBL branch.

Colin has very happy memories of time spent with his grandfather.

“He was well known for giving things away,” said Colin.

“He had been known to go up to the village pub and come home without his overcoat because someone needed it more than him.

“He never mentioned his Army service career to me, and never carried his rank, being known to everyone as ‘Jim’.”

James died at his daughter Nancy’s home on November 24, 1955.

After his death, his medals were returned to the Kings Liverpool Regiment and are now on display in the Museum of Liverpool Life.

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