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Lives of Knottingley Folk

Sergeant James Mahon


by Mr. G. S. BRIGGS

On the many war memorials up and down the land are inscribed the names of the brave family members who went to war and lost their lives going to fight for their country. For each and every one of these names there will be a memory and a story to tell. This is my story and the man was James Mahon.

James Mahon was my uncle and he was born in Pontefract on 24th April 1908. He was brought up in Cattle Laithe and I believe he attended St Josephís School in Pontefract. This involved the long walk to Pontefract and back from Cattle Laithe every school day.

Jim lost his father during the First World War and was brought up by his mother (my grandmother) Louise Mahon and stepfather Ted. He was the eldest of a very large family consisting of three brothers, Dennis, Frank and George, along with four sisters, Nora, Olive, Ruth and Babs.

They lived in one of the row of cottages in Cattle Laithe so to say they were a little cramped for space would be an understatement. Jim started work locally as a farmhand and I was told he worked for a farmer called Tommy Nurse who I believe farmed round the Stapleton and Darrington area.

Jim was an adventurous type of lad and in his early 20ís he decided to emigrate to Canada. He duly arrived in the province of Ontario and settled in a small town called Fort Francis. He started work there as a lumberjack and during his time there he met and married his wife Dorothy.

Times were soon to change as the second world war had started in Europe and Jim decided to volunteer for the Canadian Armed Forces, so on 3rd July 1940 he enlisted at Winnipeg in Manitoba and was recruited into the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada.

According to his military records, in February 1941 he reported for special duties and embarked from Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the Atlantic crossing to Gourock in Scotland. He was then transferred to his depot somewhere in the south of England. He told my grandparents that on his way down from Scotland by train to his new depot, he passed through Ferrybridge and Pontefract and could see across to Cattle Laithe, and said he felt like jumping train at that point, being that near to home after so many years.

He didnít have to wait long however, as he was soon on leave and on his way to Cattle Laithe. My grandparents had since moved from the cottage into the much larger Doveroyd Farm. It was during this time that Jim got word from Canada that he had become a father. His only son James Archie was born on 11th July 1941 but unfortunately it was a son that Jim would never see.

He usually came on leave to Royds Farm with one of his Platoon members who he had joined up with in Winnipeg. His name was Andy. Then at the end of July 1942 Jim arrived at Royds Farm with five other members of his Platoon. Along with Andy was his Sergeant called Dinty and three others whose names I cannot recall. I remember them having a good time with plenty of high spirits. What we did not know and probably they didnít at the time was that in little over a fortnight they would be embarking for Dieppe in what was called "Operation Jubilee". This was on 18th August 1942 and it would turn out to be one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.

About 5000 Canadian troops embarked for Dieppe and in 11 hours almost 1000 of them were either killed on the beaches or died of their wounds later. Just short of 2000 troops were taken prisoner with about 2000 returning to England a day later. Only 336 arrived back unharmed. Out of the six who had been at Royds Farm a fortnight earlier only two returned Ė my Uncle Jim and Andy.

We continued to see Jim and Andy at Royds Farm from time to time over the next couple of years. I also remember Jimís wifeís brother visiting us on leave during that period. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and was killed in action shortly before the end of the war.

Jim and Andy didnít go on the D-Day landings in June 1944 but they embarked for France one month later on 6th July 1944. Jim was killed in action in France on 27th August 1944. On December 12th 1944 he was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for action taken about three weeks before he was killed.

The citation received by his wife Dorothy reads as follows: -

"During the night attack on August 7th 1944 by the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada on the town of Fontonay-Le-Marmion, Sgt Mahon was Platoon Sergeant for 11 Platoon B Company. The Platoon Commander was killed in the final stages of the advance to the objective at a distance of 100 yards from the objective. 11 Platoon came under fire from an enemy machine gun post. The Platoon was pinned down and small arms fire returned. Sgt Mahon worked his way to the enemy post and silenced it with two hand grenades. By this action the Platoon was able to push through and consolidate on its objective. Sgt Mahon by his quick and decisive action under heavy fire inspired his men and was to a large extent responsible for the Platoon gaining its objective".

Jimís friend Andy survived the war and came to see us before leaving for Canada. Jimís wife Dorothy died many years ago and his only son Jim was tragically killed in a boating accident, but his family live on, in and around Fort Francis and Kenora in Ontario with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Jim is buried in a war grave in France and his name is inscribed on the Knottingley War Memorial. He was one of many men who went to war to fight for his country and never returned home. Even though I was very young when I knew him he was always the soldier who came from Canada to help us win the war. He was a man I always looked up to and had respect for as a kid, and even to this day I respect him Ė "my Uncle Jim".

A few years ago I visited the records office in Ottawa and obtained the military records which included the list of medals Sergeant James Mahon was awarded:

  • The Military Medal
  • The Dieppe Campaign Medal (awarded many years later)
  • The 1939-45 Star
  • France Ė Germany Star
  • Defence Medal
  • War Medal 1939-45
  • CVSM and Clasp

G.S. Briggs

The Pontefract and Castleford Express reported on the death of Sergeant James Mahon in 1944

Mrs. A. J. Mahon of Royds Farm, Cattle Laithe, Knottingley, has been notified that her son, Sergeant James Mahon (36), of the Canadian Army, has been killed in action in France.
Sergeant Mahon had been in the Army for about four years. Some 15 years ago he was employed by Mr. Nurse, farmer of Darrington, and left England for Canada where he worked on farms in Saskatchewan and Ontario. He married a Canadian girl and besides his wife, leaves a three year old son whom he had not seen. His father Mr. A. J. Mahon, who was a private in the 1st Garrison Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in the last war.

As mentioned above, Sergeant James Mahonís father lost his life during the First World War and on 2nd August 1918 the Pontefract and Castleford Express published the following: -

Private Andrew Mahon, of Cattle Laithe, Knottingley, who has closed his earthly course in India, is one of those men who have a good record of service having been through the South African War before the present upheaval began. He was a K.O.Y.L.I. reservist in August 1914, was called up at once, and after spending about two months at Pontefract Barracks he passed over to France. He was amongst the brave fellows who did the hard fighting around Hill 60 in 1915, and was wounded there. He came home to England and left for India about Christmas that year, and has served in Garrison in India since and has recently succumbed to heat-stroke.
His widow who resides at Cattle Laithe, is left with five children, the eldest being ten years old and the youngest two. They have the sympathy of their neighbours and friends.

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