James Patch was born in 1882, the third of four children – all boys – to Albert and Jane. Albert was a farm labourer in the village of Meare, Somerset, and this is something that, once leaving school, the Patch boys also went into.
Albert passed away in 1904, so James stepped up and stayed living with his mother. By the time of the 1911 census, they were living near the Grape Vine Pub in Meare, both working as agricultural labourers, and had a John Lee boarding with them.
No firm details remain of James’ military service, although it is evident that he enlisted in the Devonshire Regiment and, from the Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects, this can be narrowed down to the 7th Infantry Works Company.
While Private Patch’s military records are sparse, his name crops up a lot in the newspapers around the time of his death, with headlines like “Mysterious Death of Meare Soldier”.
On the evening of the 25th March 1917, James was found lying across the tram tracks in Horfield, a suburb to the north of Bristol. He was in a semi-conscious state, and was taken to the nearby barracks.
An inquest was held and the story unfolded.
Witness statements confirmed that Private Patch was on a tram and had asked the conductress to let him know when they reached the barracks. The tram halted at the allotted stop, but, when nobody alighted, the driver started up again.
James apparently asked the conductress if that had been the stop for Horfield Barracks and, having confirmed that it was, and that he had wanted to get off there, she pressed the bell for the driver to pull up at the next stop. She then went up to the top deck of the tram, and it appear that James had decided he couldn’t wait for the next stop and jumped off the moving tram.
It seems that James fell from the tram and hit his head when he landed; this was when a passer-by found him.
The morning after his fall, the camp doctor identified the extent of James’ injury and he was moved from the barracks to the Royal Infirmary in Bristol. Private Patch died an hour after being admitted, having suffered an extensive fracture of the skull. He was 35 years of age.
The inquest into his death returned a verdict of “accidental death, due to a fall from a tram-car, caused by stepping from the car while in motion”.
James Patch lies at rest in the ground of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and All Saints in his home village of Meare in Somerset.