Born 24 December 1890
Died 13 November 1916
Studied at the RCA: February 1913 – July 1915
James O’Brien was born in Patricroft, in Salford, Lancashire, to a non-conformist family. At the time of his application to study, in 1912, the RCA still attracted many art teachers wanting to gain qualifications and improve their skills by developing a specialism. James’s student file confirms he was one of these, and had applied to the College hoping to become a modelling master. During two years of study he wrote to the Board of Education revealing the financial hardship the fees were causing his family, and hoping they would consider providing some assistance.
After leaving the College – with a good reference – he returned to teaching in Huddersfield. But having already enlisted under the Lord Derby Scheme his file notes state that he applied to work in munitions. When this was unsuccessful he wrote to the College on 14 June 1916, to ask that ‘Croft’ − presumably an assistant working in the modelling department − send his works to him. He had ‘affairs to settle before I join the forces next week’. He was drafted to York and into the Yorkshire Light Infantry on 26 June. The Battle of the Somme began four days later.
James went on to serve in France as a private in the 18th Battalion, the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), formed in Bradford a year previously. But less than six months into service, and a month shy of his twenty-sixth birthday, he was killed in action during the Battle of the Ancre. Entries in the war diary for the battalion suggest this may have been due to heavy shelling around Serre in the late morning of 13 November 1916, following the clearing of early fog over acres of muddy land. Five days later the Battle of the Somme ended.
James is buried at Sailly-Au-Bois Military Cemetery, Hedauville, Mailly-Maillet, France and commemorated on a memorial in Ebenezer United Methodist Free Church, where he had been baptised.