Petty Officer 1st Class James Highfield Edney, Royal Navy, served for more than twenty years in the Royal Navy before the First World War. He saw service from Egypt to the Sudan and retired from the Navy in 1903, settling in to civilian life as a Chauffeur and starting a family, but was called up again at the outbreak of war, joining the crew of the Laurentic the autumn of 1914. He was born in Warkworth, Northumberland on the 13th February 1865, the son of Henry and Harriett Edney (née Barry). His father was born in 1830 in Worcester; his mother in 1833, in Queenstown, Ireland.
In 1861 at census time James’ father was working as a seaman in the Royal Navy and was boarding with the Barry family in Stoke Damerel, Devonport. The head of the household, James Barry, Harriett’s father, had also been a seaman, so perhaps this what brought the couple together. Henry and Harriett married in Devon in 1861 and must have moved to Northumberland at some point before James was born in 1865. His brother Henry George was also born in Northumberland, in 1867. By 1871 the family had moved back to Plymouth. Henry was now a naval pensioner.
James enlisted as a boy sailor in August 1880, age fifteen. He was a Boy 2nd Class, serving on the HMS Implacable and HMS Lion, promoted to Boy 1st Class in August 1881, a promotion dependent on sufficient proficiency and Good Conduct badge. He was stationed on the HMS Superb when the ship was sent to Egypt in March 1882 to take part in the ‘The Bombardment of Alexandria’. There were several causes for the Egyptian campaign of 1882, but primarily for the British it was a matter of keeping access to the Suez Canal open to shipping for the benefit of her commerce with India & the Far East. He was still on the Superb when his first period of service officially commenced on his 18th birthday 13th February 1883. He initially signed up for a period of ten years, but extended this for another ten in November 1892. James was awarded the Khedive’s Star in April 1883 for his part in the Alexandria bombardment. He returned from Egypt in December 1883.
From December 1883 till February 1888 he was based in England, serving on a number depot, guard and training ships. His only brother Henry George died in the autumn of 1884 when he was just 17 years old.
In February 1888 he was transferred to HMS Reindeer, where he stayed till April 1891. On the 20th of December 1888 Reindeer was engaged in the Battle of Suakin (the chief port of Sudan). In April 1890 while stationed off East Africa, James was promoted to Petty Officer 2nd Class. On the 20th February 1891 Reindeer was almost wrecked when entering Malta after her engines broke down and was only saved from being driven onto the rocks by making sail. Reindeer returned to England, berthed at Devonport in March 1891 and was “paid off” April 1891. James’s father passed away in 1890 while James was in Sudan.
James was promoted to Petty Officer 1st Class in November 1892 while stationed at Vivid 1, a shore base at Devonport, Plymouth. He joined the newly commissioned battleship H.M.S. Ocean in February 1900. Ocean was with the Mediterranean Fleet until January 1901 and was transferred to the China Station in response to the Boxer Rebellion. James left the HMS Ocean in April 1903 and was pensioned out of the Navy in July, at which time he joined Royal Fleet Reserve, Devonport.
On the 12th of March 1910 he married Henrietta Robertson in Marylebone, London. In the 1911 census he was with Henrietta, living at 10 Norfolk Gardens, Paddington, working as a chauffeur. Their son James Henry Highfield Edney was born June 1911 and was baptised at St John The Evangelist, Paddington, on the 30th of July 1911.
James was recalled to service on the 2nd of August 1914 and joined the crew of H.M.S. Laurentic on the 23rd of November 1914. In December Laurentic left Liverpool for Sierra Leone to assist in the Kamerun Campaign. From August 1915 the ship patrolled around Singapore, Rangoon and Hong Kong, leaving Asia in June 1916 to patrol near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Laurentic returned to Liverpool, carrying Royal Canadian Navy officers, rated seamen and Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserves, arriving in early December 1916. The crew were given a short period of shore leave, returning to the ship on the 22nd of December.
James’s body was recovered and is buried in the mass grave in St Mura’s churchyard, Fahan, County Donegal. He is commemorated on the WW1 memorials in the Church of the Good Shepherd, Four Marks, Hampshire and St Peters, Ropley, Hampshire (this memorial was severely damaged in a fire in 2014 which left St Peter’s a burnt out shell).
West Sussex Gazette Thursday 15 February 1917
James Highfield Edney, first-class petty officer, RNR met his death through sinking of HMS Laurentic.on January 25th. He resided at Highfield, Four Marks, and was a naval pensioner. He had seen a good deal of service in his time, and held the Egyptian War Medal, Alexandra Clasp, and Bronze Star, and possessed the Long Service and Good Conduct Medals.
The Egypt Medal (1882–1889) was awarded for the military actions involving the British Army and Royal Navy during the1882 Anglo-Egyptian War and in the Sudan between 1884 and 1889. The Khedive’s Bronze Star was a campaign medal established by Khedive Tewfik Pasha to reward those who had participated in the military campaigns in Egypt and the Sudan between 1882 and 1891. James was also also posthumously awarded the Star, Victory medal and British War Medal.
Census Census Returns of England and Wales, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1911. The
National Archives – Royal Naval Service Records
General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes