A story of war, love and two mining towns

James Budden (left) in Egypt 1916 during the Great War

James Budden (left) in Egypt 1916 during the Great War

By MICK ROBERTS ©

The Corrimal Uniting Church honour roll has revealed a tragic love story that spanned the globe. The tablet lists 21 local men from the church who served in the Great War, with one name, James Budden remaining a mystery to local historians and the parish for decades - until now...

The Corrimal Uniting Church honour roll has revealed a tragic love story that spanned the globe.

AN HONOUR roll in Corrimal Uniting Church – not unlike memorials in community halls around the world – has revealed a tragic love story that spanned the globe.

The tablet lists 21 local men from the church who served in the Great War, with one name, James Budden remaining a mystery to local historians and the parish for decades.

James Budden’s tale is one of hope and sadness – it tells of a young man planning to bring his sweetheart from the English village of West Cornforth to the booming New South Wales coal mining town of Corrimal to begin a new life.

Russell Vale war historian Terry Bugg said past research on James Budden had proved fruitless. All that was known of the man was he died aged 28 on the Somme, France in 1917 after enlisting in Corrimal in 1916.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world in the village of West Cornforth historians were pondering the same questions about the identical man.

The village’s war memorial bears the same James Budden listed on the Corrimal honour roll.

“My daughter asked me about the names on the [West Cornforth] memorial, such as why were there two surnames the same,” West Cornforth war historian Andy Denholme told Looking Back.

The West Cornforth War Memorial, England.

The West Cornforth War Memorial, England.

Unable to give his daughter the correct answer he began researching the names on the memorial.

He discovered the Looking Back website, which ultimately closed the final chapter on the touching tale of James Budden.

Born in the coal fields of Cornforth England in 1888, James, as a teenager, worked as a coal miner in the local pits.

As a young man, he dreamed of a new life for himself and his 21-year-old girlfriend Hannah Harling in Australia, and the eager 26-year-old eventually immigrated in 1914.

James arrived in Corrimal and, with his past mining experience easily gained work at the local colliery. He would send for Hannah after saving enough money for her sea voyage and they habitually exchanged letters and postcards in anticipation.

Their idyllic dream was cut short with the outbreak of the Great War. While the Australian government stressed the need for more men to enlist in the war, James, or Jigger as he was known, persevered and vigilantly worked towards raising money his sweetheart, Hannah to join him. A religious man, he became a parishioner at the Corrimal Methodist Church, and watched as local recruiting committees and government leaders aroused patriotic fervour in his community.

Lovers: James Budden and Hannah Harling

Lovers: Hannah Harling and James Budden.

Recruiting marches set off through various regions of NSW adding numbers to their ranks as they made their way to through towns and villages towards Sydney. James watched as the ‘Waratah March’ rallied through Corrimal in December 1915, whipping-up patriotic passion and further recruits.

By 1916 the Englishman had signed-up for what he and many other young men considered would be an adventure of a lifetime, sailing via the Middle East for the Western Front in France. While in France, the joy he felt when he was reunited with his brother Joseph turned to grief just a week later, when his brother was killed in action.

James continued sending postcards to Hannah from France, which, remarkably have been preserved by her granddaughter in England.

“To greet you from France,” he writes in 1916, “My dear girl, once again I have to wish you the old, old wish. May your Christmas be very happy and the New Year brings you all the best and brightest things that you can wish for.”

It would be his last Christmas wish for Hannah.

In a letter dated April 14 1917 he writes from a military hospital in France.

“I was hit by a lump of HE (high explosive) shell and consider myself lucky to be writing to you. My wound is by no means a small one but it is safe one so please do not worry about me in the least… I have a wound in the left side. It is practically on

James Budden's grave in Rouen.

James Budden’s grave in Rouen.

the buttock. It was a good job it was no higher up or it would have greatly upset Jimmie’s internal arrangements. Now, Dear; I can’t write anymore just now so I must finish… From your loving boy, Jim.”

He completed his shaky written letter with 12 kisses – his record – and died a week later from his injuries.

James Budden was buried in a war cemetery in Rouen. His name was added to the West Cornforth War Memorial with his brother’s and, worlds away where a couple’s dreams were never realised, his name joined 20 others on a small marble honour roll in a Corrimal church in NSW Australia.

Lest we forget.

© Copyright, Mick Roberts 2015

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