My WW1 Ancestry - Jay James

As part of our Thank You 100 movement, and in partnership with Ancestry UK and The National Army Museum, we traced the ancestry of four social media stars back to WW1 with amazing results.

Jay James is a singer most famous for his appearance on X factor in 2014. A former Royal Navy man Jay is also a presenter on Forces Radio BFBS which broadcasts to serving personnel and their families worldwide.

Here’s what Ancestry UK found when they traced Jay's ancestors to see if she any First World War connections.

Jay James’ great great-grandfather on his father’s side, Thomas McBride Livingstone, was a native of County Down, Ireland. By 1911 he had married his wife, Letitia Crawford, in Belfast and the family had moved to Burrow-in-Furness, Lancashire.

Thomas worked as a pattern-maker, creating wooden patterns based on a designer’s sketch that could be transferred to metalwork.

In January 1916, Thomas joined the Royal Engineers, the division which provided technical support to the British Army. Thomas was in the 286th Army Troop Company which implies that he was attached to an army troop. 

In September of that year, Thomas’s unit was sent to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and from there the British Salonika Force, where British forces had been sent to help the Serbian Army against the Bulgarians in Salonika, in north-eastern Greece.

Jay James with Genealogist Simon Pearce

However, by the time they arrived the Serbian army had already been defeated. But as the Bulgarian threat was still looming French and British Forces holed up in Salonika fortifying it barbed wire, which became known as the Bird Cage.

The campaign in Salonika was bleak and more men died from disease than the actual fighting. The climate also changed dramatically here: from 27 C with threat of mosquitos and malaria, to -10 C with piercingly cold winds.

The Germans referred to the Salonika theatre as their biggest prisoner of war camp, as it essentially tied down thousands of Allied soldiers who could have been used on the Western Front. Thomas and the rest of the British soldiers stayed here, locked in a stalemate with the Bulgarians until the end of the war.

Sadly, during his service Thomas contracted malaria, and between 1916 and 1919 he was charged for drinking in the field on multiple occasions. Thomas’s drinking was probably in reaction to the doldrums, terrible weather, and his malaria contracted during his time there.

Despite the multiple charges against Thomas, the military recognised and rewarded him for his talents. As Thomas had worked as a pattern maker before the war, the Royal Engineers evidently utilised his gift while he was in Salonika, rating him a “Very Superior” Pattern Maker and giving him pay to reflect this status.

While Thomas endured many hardships in Salonika, his exceptional skills helped him receive recognition from his superiors, and he was given a certificate that would have aided his career once he returned to civilian life. He returned to his home in Barrow-in-Furness in 1919.

After finding out about his First World War ancestry, Jay said: “I suppose I would say to Thomas Livingstone thank you because as corny as it sounds without his little piece in the war in essence I wouldn’t be here… and for that I’m incredibly proud of him.” 

We would like to say a big thank you to the National Army Museum for allowing us to film at their amazing location.

Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos in our WW1 ancestry series featuring Jack Edwards, Beckie Brown and Kate Jamieson.

Beckie Brown with Genealogist Simon Pearce

Find out how you can get involved and say Thank You to the First World War generation.