Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1945, Private James Stokes V.C., 2nd Battalion, the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, was killed in action at Kervenheim in the Rheinland.
One of four children, his parents died while he was young so he was sent to work on a relative’s farm in Ireland. He later returned to Scotland and enlisted in 1943.
Private Stokes landed in France on D-Day. His battalion, which sustained heavy losses, became part of the line that made up the allied front and saw action at Caen, Manneville and the Seine. For his actions on the 1st of March in 1945 Private Stokes was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
As the platoon was being re-organized after coming under heavy enemy rifle and machine gun fire from nearby farm buildings, he dashed forward alone without waiting for orders. He fired as he ran into the buildings, and a short while later emerged shepherding twelve prisoners. Ordered to attend the Regimental Aid Post due to his neck wounds, he refused, saying, “I’ll be alright, Sir!” When the platoon came under more fire he again rushed forward alone, fell to the ground wounded, then got up and continued on despite intense enemy fire, taking five prisoners.
His company then prepared for an assault on an enemy strong point. Despite being severely wounded, Private Stokes yet again dashed forward through intense fire until he fell close to the enemy position. As he lay on the ground he continued to fire his rifle until he died from the eight wounds in his upper body. Small in stature, but with immense courage, his solo charges surprised his comrades as well as the Germans, as he drew fire upon himself to distract the enemy from the advancing Shropshires.
Private Stokes’ Victoria Cross citation states: “His magnificent courage, devotion to duty and splendid example, inspired all those round him and ensured the success of the attack at a critical moment; moreover, his self-sacrifice saved his Platoon and Company many serious casualties”. He is buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, at Kleve in Germany.
James, from Glasgow, was 30 years old and married.