James Henry Jarvis was born in Wellington, Shropshire on 13th February 1892, the elder son of James Jarvis who was an ironmonger and his wife Alice Rebecca Jarvis [née Kynaston].
After his education at Wellington College, 1905-08, James left his home town and moved to London where he became a boy clerk with the Post Office Savings Bank living in Fulham. By early 1914 he lived at Mornington Road1, just east of Regents Park and was classified as a ‘civil servant’.
On 26th February 1914 James enlisted with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman and on 22nd August, not long after the outbreak of war, joined 2nd (Hawke) Battalion, Royal Naval Division.
At the beginning of October 1914 James had been promoted Able Seaman. Orders were received to move the Marine Brigade to defend the city of Antwerp and it arrived at 1.00am on the 4th October, four miles south of the city. The two Naval Brigades were then called into action and they subsequently arrived on the outskirts 48 hours later.
In the early evening of the 8th October orders were received for the Royal Naval Division to retire but in the confusion that followed most of the 1st Brigade, the Hawke, Benbow and Collingwood Battalions crossed the Dutch frontier and were interned at Groningen. Only the Drake Battalion escaped as they had left the city early.
On arrival in Holland, and in accordance with International Law, the men were interned. The British themselves called the camp 'Timbertown' or 'HMS Timbertown'.
However it soon became obvious that something had to be done to prevent a breakdown of moral and discipline amongst the internees. A daily routine was meticulously set in train: exercise, march and practice. Furthermore the qualities and talents of the men were utilised as much as possible.
Numerous clubs were erected in which music, drama, crafts and especially sports were practiced. The cabaret company 'Timbertown Follies' was well known. There was even a rehearsal space within the camp and workshops for the carpenters, furniture makers, tailors and electricians. Furthermore there were classrooms, a small church, a post office and a large recreation room.
Not all of the sailors were content to stay put and the urge to escape became apparent amongst some of the inmates. Despite camp security there were several successful attempted escapes in 1915, with a few of the local Groningen inhabitants imprisoned themselves for giving aid to the escapees.
Eventually the escapes stopped following an agreement by the Dutch and British governments. The internees received the right to regularly 'go on leave' to the centre of Groningen, which occasionally led to drunken behaviour and complaints from the locals. By 1916 the two governments had agreed visitation rights allowing the sailors, who had given their word of honour and under certain conditions, permission to return to their families in England for four weeks, often extended to eight weeks!!
James Jarvis was fortunate to obtain two periods of ‘home leave’ with his family in Shropshire; 12th–29th December 1916 and 17th June-14th July 1918.
As more and more contact with the people of Groningen became established a lot of the sailors became regular family friends of families from Groningen and there were courtships and marriages with Dutch girls.
The interned were also asked to become involved in the daily labour process, on a purely voluntary basis and as much as possible in the area of their original civilian profession. This offered possibilities for more social activities and more pay.
The internees were prevented from taking Dutch jobs and so the government gave out special permits. In 1915 the British were put to work in machine factories and ship building yards situated nearby. In Groningen itself they had jobs in several small businesses and in the harvest season many farmers received help from the British sailors.
On 11th November 1918 the armistice was signed and on the 15th November the first batch of sailors left Rotterdam for home: the 300 men on leave in England simply never returned. Those sailors who had ‘jobs’ outside the camp left later. The Senior British Officer Commodore Henderson, and 50 of his men, remained behind to wind up the camp business. ‘HMS Timbertown’ was officially terminated on 1st January 1919.
James arrived home on 19th November but his family’s joy at his safe return was to be short-lived. On Saturday 30th November 1918, Able Seaman James Henry Jarvis, Hawke Battalion, Royal Naval Division, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, died at his mother’s home of broncho-pneumonia, cardiac failure. He was 26 years of age and was buried in Wellington General Cemetery, Shropshire. The gravestone carries the names of both sons, as does the town’s war memorial; James who died at home and John, who lies across the channel in a corner of a foreign field.
In a cruel twist of fate, James and Alice Jarvis had now lost both of their children to the war in the space of four months. With the tragic death of James Henry Jarvis the final chapter had been written: he is believed to be the last of the former pupils of Wellington College to make the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country during The Great War.