Yeovil People

James Huntley Knight VC

Soldier, enlisted as Henry James Knight


James Huntley Knight was born on 5 November 1878 in Park Street and on 3 December 1878 was baptised at Holy Trinity church. He was the son of cloth weaver Huntley Knight (b1853, Kingswood, Gloucestershire, the "Natural Son" of Ann Freeman) and his wife Alma. Huntley Knight died in June 1878 and was buried in Wiltshire on 22 June 1878 - four months before the birth of his son. In the 1881 census, two-year-old James was recorded living with his grandparents in Addlewell Lane.

Little is known of James' very early life, although he may have experienced a difficult childhood since the 1891 census recorded him as a 13-year-old 'inmate' at the Industrial School at Milborne Stileham, Blandford, Dorset. (Industrial Schools were intended to help those children under 14 years old who were found to be homeless or begging, but who had not as yet committed any serious crime. The idea was to remove the child from bad influences, give them an education and teach them a trade.)

In 1892, at the age of 14, he enlisted in The King's (Liverpool) Regiment as a band boy under the name of Henry James Knight. 

On 21 August 1900, 21-year-old James was serving as a Corporal in No 1 Company, First Battalion, The Kings (Liverpool) Regiment, 4th Division Mounted Infantry, involved in Boer War operations in an area called Van Wyke’s Vlei east of Pretoria.

For "gallantry in the face of the enemy" during these operations, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, as follows -


"War Office, January 4, 1901.
The Queen has been graciously pleased to signify Her intention to confer the decoration of the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Non-Commissioned Officer, whose claims have been submitted for Her Majesty's approval, for his conspicuous bravery during the operations near Van Wyk's Vlei, as stated against his name :—

1st Battalion Liverpool Regiment. No. 1 Company, 4th Division Mounted Infantry.  Corporal H J Knight

On the 21st August, during the operations near Van Wyk's Vlei, Corporal Knight was posted in some rocks with four men covering the right rear of a detachment of the same Company who, under Captain Ewart, were holding the right of the line.

The enemy, about 50 strong, attacked Captain Ewart's right and almost surrounded, at short range, Corporal Knight's small party. That Non-Commissioned Officer held his ground, directing his party to retire one by one to better cover, where he maintained his position for nearly an hour, covering the withdrawal of Captain Ewart's force, and losing two of his four men.

He then retired, bringing with him two wounded men. One of these he left in a place of safety, the other he carried himself for nearly two miles.

The party were hotly engaged during the whole time."

On 1 July 1903, 24-year-old Sergeant James Huntley Knight VC married 23-year-old Carrie Ellen Smith (b 17 January 1880 - 1957) at her village church at Milborne St Andrew, Dorset, halfway between Dorchester and Blandford. Carrie was the daughter of labourer Henry William Smith and his wife Eliza Ann.

After 19 years army service he retired from the regiment. James (as Henry James) was discharged from the army on 16 May 1912. However, following the outbreak of the Great War he enlisted on 25 August 1914 in the 11th (Empire Battalion) Royal Fusiliers, later renumbered 17th Royal Fusiliers, and was rapidly promoted Regimental Sergeant Major.

On 18 January 1915 he was commissioned as temporary Lieutenant in the 20th Battalion Manchester regiment (formed on 7 November 1914 as the 5th City or Pals Battalion). James was promoted temporary Captain on 5 March 1915. and put in command of 'A' Company and later 'D' Company.

In early 1915 there were reports of a scandal involving contracts to civilians for work and services at the recently built Warlingham Camp of the Royal Fusiliers, involving illegal payments. Apparently the order having been placed for building huts and other work, one of two committee members acting on behalf of himself and the other, went to the contractor and demanded a share of his profits. After some considerable reluctance the contractor agreed to concede one-third. The contract was performed during the month of September 1914 and from time to time the contractor made payments to one of these men, who received them on behalf of himself and the other man.

Captain Knight of the 20th Manchesters, having earlier held a responsible position in the battalion, was called to give evidence at a Military Court of Enquiry regarding the civilian contractors but only in the manner in which they did their work. In his evidence he made the point that food was never insufficient, but it was badly cooked as the authorities had appointed a master-cook who did not know his work and might as well have been a bricklayer. He also stated that inspecting officers never went to the huts when they were leaking and that the men had been seen floating paper boats in the water inside their huts. His evidence was undoubtedly true, albeit tinged with sarcasm, and was not accepted by the Court of Enquiry. Captain Knight then withdrew his remarks. In December 1915 it was announced that there were to be no charges. All this must have had a profound effect on Knight and on 10 October 1915 he relinquished his commission - no reason being made public.

He then re-enlisted the following month as a Private, under his own name of James Huntley Knight in the London Scottish Regt. On 9 January 1916, after re-enlisting once again, he embarked with the 1/14th Battalion London Scottish for France and the Western Front. Two months later he was appointed Lance Corporal and promoted Corporal on 28 March, a rank which he had last held some twenty-seven years earlier. He was wounded in his left leg on 22 June 1916 at Gommecourt in the Somme. Repatriated to England on 27 June and medically discharged from the army on 15 March 1917 as ceasing to fulfill Army Physical Requirements. So ended twenty-four years of virtually unbroken service to Queen, King and Country.

He spent the remainder of his life in his wife's home village of Milborne St Andrew, Dorset. He was a friend of T E Lawrence who lived nearby, and was actively involved with the local branch of the British Legion.

On 25 November 1918, James and Carrie had a son, Howard.

One blot on James' name occurred in June 1920 when he was tried at Dorchester. He was fund guilty of "Forgery and Uttering". He was sentenced to six months imprisonment without hard labour. For details, see the Gallery below.

In the 1920 Electoral Register, James and Carrie were recorded living at High Street, Milborne St Andrew, Dorset. The 1939 Register also recorded James, Carrie and Howard living at High Street. James was recorded as an Army Pensioner, Colour Sergeant of the King's Regiment as well as an active Air Raid Precaution Warden. Carrie listed her occupation as 'unpaid domestic duties' while Howard gave his as a farm assistant.

James died on 24 November 1955 and his medals were later presented to The King's Regiment for safe keeping. Carrie died on 3 December 1957. There is a memorial to James and Carrie in the church yard at Milborne St Andrew - see below.




The record of the baptism of James Huntley Knight on 3 December 1878 from the Holy Trinity parish register.


Probably photographed around 1900 when 21-year-old James was serving as a Corporal in South Africa. Seen here wearing the uniform of No 1 Company, First Battalion, The King's (Liverpool) Regiment, 4th Division Mounted Infantry.


James and Carrie's 1 July 1903 marriage recorded in the Milborne St Andrew parish register.


Colour Sergeant Henry James Knight VC


James was charged with forgery as reported in the 27 April 1920 edition of the Edinburgh Evening News.


The left-hand page of the UK Calendar of Prisoners, showing 42-year-old James' details. Below is the right-hand page detailing his offences, verdict and sentence.


The memorial to James and Carrie in the church yard at Milborne St Andrew.