Letters home from the Western Front – John Walcot Blencowe 1916

44 Letters are written by J.W.Blencowe

John Walcot Blencowe , Chaplain Captain, Chaplains Dept Attached 1/1 Suffolk Yeomanry (The Duke of Yorks Own Loyal Suffolk Hussars) and 2ndDevonshire Regiment.

After my father died in 1966, I discovered a packet of letters that he had written to his mother dated between 1915 and 1918. Like many others he never spoke about his time in World War 1 though I vaguely knew he had been a chaplain in Gallipoli and had sailed out in the ‘Olympic’, a sister ship of the ill-fated ‘Titanic’, which had been converted into a troopship. I also knew that he had been invalided out from there with enteric fever to Malta, and eventually was appointed Chaplain to the 2nd Devonshires who were engaged at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. How I now wish I had been interested enough to get him to talk about those days! 
 
Peter Blencowe 2006.
 
In 2006 Peter and his son eldest son Charlie transcribed the letters and published them privately in memory of a Father and Grandfather, who it is fair to say lead a very eventful life. A Missionary in the South Pacific before the war the letters Peter and son published do have this period covered extensively.
This blog concentrates on the letters from JW Blencowe in the year 1916-17. Any additional information that I have gleaned or can add to the letters timeline from sources such as Regimental war diaries of WW1 reference material have been added.



13th April 1916 – 18th April 1917
When attached to 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment
23rd Infantry Brigade

No 1

Probably written from Albert.
2nd Devons at Frement and Albert
13th April 1916
My Dear Dad
I have at last reached my destination for the time being, but the journey has been very slow. I left Charing Cross at ten minutes past one on Monday, so that it was a very good thing I came up to London on Sunday night. We had a fine and smooth passage, and got over very quickly. The first night I slept in the train, and the second, at the late Army Headquarters, where I saw Bishop Gywne whom I liked very much. The third night I slept in another town, and I got to within six miles of here by train today, doing the last six in a motor lorry. We are five miles from the trenches, this being the Divisional Headquarters. I cannot tell where I shall eventually be until I see the Senior Chaplain of the Division who is due back here tomorrow or the day after. The whole conditions and surroundings are, of course, quite different from Anzac. We are in a dilapidated sort of village, but we appear to be out of range of their guns, and it really seems to be extraordinarily peaceful, and the chief danger seems to be from gas.
I write this letter in a great hurry and I shall probably put no address on it, as I am so likely to be moving. As soon as I know where I am to be definitely I will write again and send you more details.
With much love to you and Mother and all
Your Loving Son Jack
P S will you address your letters to me at Headquarters, 8th Divisional Artillery. Brit: Exped: Force in France.

JW Blencowe was in the Albert area for some good part of 1916

No 2

2nd Devon Headquarters
British Expeditionary Force
April 18th 1916
Probably Albert
My Dear Mother
I have already moved from the Divisional Headquarters from where I last wrote and I have got, as I wished, into a regiment. I have another regiment, The West Yorks, to look after, and also one or two other batteries. I am with the regulars now, and not with Kitchener’s army or the Territorials. The Regiment has, of course, been out here almost from the beginning, and there are not many of the old originals left, and only one officer. They are quite a nice lot, but not quite up to the Suffolk Yeomanry. We are extraordinarily close to the Germans, so close that it is difficult for them to shell us, but we have masses of barbed wire between us and them. The Devons are now in the trenches for four days, but I have not gone in with them this time as I have a heavy cold and have lost my voice, and I want to get it right for Easter. I am at present in a town a mile away from the line. It is almost entirely in ruins and the Germans are daily shelling it. I have found a house with one or two of the lower rooms more or less intact. The windows have all been blown out and the upper storey has been demolished by a shell. The house, however, possesses most excellent cellars and when the shells come unpleasantly close, I retire below. It is cold damp, and very draughty, but much better than a dug-out. I have an excellent servant, who knows all the ropes and is a very good cook, so I have nothing to complain of. My work is difficult owing to the regiments being so scattered about and constantly on the move. I must end this letter now with best wishes for Easter.
Your loving Son Jack.

No 3

2nd Devon Headquarters
Brit: Exped: Forces in France
April 22nd 1916 (Easter Saturday )
Albert
My Dear Mother
I am glad to say that I am getting rid of my cold, and my voice has more or less recovered. Today is the day before Easter, and I have a terrific list of services to take-in fact I am taking services all day. One is in a cinema theatre with a perforated roof, which we now use as a sort of canteen for the men, another is in a gun pit, another in a dug-out, another in a barn which has had its sides blown
in while the roof remains intact and the rest are in the open air. I am hoping for a peaceful day, as if shells are dropped near, we have to disband the service at once, and that will be very awkward as all my services are celebrations.
I am writing this letter today instead of Monday, because the Germans are peppering the town with shrapnel and we have to remain under cover. I shall try to write every Monday while I am out here. I hope that Dad will be fairly well off for clergy this Easter and that he won’t overtire himself tomorrow.
Your Loving Son Jack

No 4

23rd Infantry Brigade
Brit: Exped: Force
April 28th 1916
Probably Albert
My Dear Mother
You will see from this letter that I have got yet another address. This one will, I think, be permanent. I am with the same people, the Devons and the West Yorks. Having to look after two regiments, I am sometimes with one and sometimes with the other and consequently may sometimes get my letters late if they are sent to the Devons. My man has to go every day to Brigade Headquarters for ratios and he can always bring back the letters with him. I think I last wrote to you the Saturday before Easter. We had a very successful double raid that night. The noise was terrific, and German front line trenches were smashed to bits over a two-mile front. We then raided and brought back the few still alive as prisoners, one brawny Scotsman carrying in a wounded German boy of about 15 or 16. They retaliated by giving us a very disturbed Easter Sunday. I had my first celebration at an anti-aircraft battery. Just as I was finishing a German aeroplane got above and dropped two bombs. They made a terrific noise and blew in all the remaining glass in the building, but they did no damage at all, beyond upsetting my service.
Our difficulty lies chiefly in the constant moving of the troops. They are always shifting into Brigade Reserve for four or five days, having a rest between their spells in the trenches, or they go for a longer rest into Divisional Reserve. They go about 3 miles back for Brigade Reserve and 6 miles back for Divisional Reserve, and when they are scattered like that it is extremely difficult to work them all. I also have 8 artillery batteries to look after as well.
I am keeping fit and well although I find the constant riding by horse or bicycle very tiring. Will you send me out a bottle of phosphoserine tablets, the same as Edith uses. Curiously enough I find the noise and firing much more trying
than in Gallipoli, al though it is not nearly as loud nor is there as much of it, and for the last three days, they have not shelled this place at all. Best love to all.
Your Loving Son Jack

War Diary entry 22ndApr. A raid carried out by the Division to left resulted in Artillery retaliation causing casualties 1 OR killed 12 wounded 2 Officers wounded.

 

No 5

123rd Infantry Brigade
B.E.F
Probably Albert
May 3rd 1916
My Dear Mother
I have not a great deal of news to tell you this week. This is an extremely busy part of the line, and troops and guns are flocking in daily. We were shelled rather badly on Monday, but chiefly on the other side of the town. They put in several ‘lacrimatory’ or ‘tear shells’, of which I got a whiff. They are the most absurd things as they do you no harm, but your eyes run so that you cannot see. We have masks to shield our eyes, which we always carry with our gas helmets. This glorious weather has brought out innumerable aeroplanes. Ours are always going over the German lines, but theirs very seldom come over ours, usually only once a day, and they get such a hot reception they do not stay long. My Brigade are moving back six miles from the line into Divisional rest, but I am staying on here, as they are going to be very scattered and this place makes a good centre.
I am enclosing four picture postcards of this place. They were taken a short time ago, and the town looks even more dilapidated now, in fact, part of it has been quite flattened out. It has been a very fine building, and on the top is a magnificent statue of the Virgin and Child. It is very large and shines like gold, and now, as it hangs at right angles over the ruined town, it presents a most remarkable appearance. The church today is even more battered, and a lot more has fallen, but the child is still up there with arms outstretched across the town.
I am so glad to hear that you are going to Harrowgate. I hope it will do you good. Will you let me know when you get this letter. Your loving son Jack

War Diary entry 3rd May. Bn HQ moved to Henencourt Wood .

No 6

23rd Inf Brigade
Probably Albert
May 6th 1916
My dear Mother
I suppose that you and Dad and Edith are now at Harrowgate. I do so hope you will stay there long enough for the treatment to really do you good, and will not hurry away after a fortnight.
I have had an extremely busy week-end; my Brigade has been in reserve, but I remained in my old headquarters as I have now shifted from the house I first went into another larger one. There I can sleep upstairs, while downstairs I have a chapel and also reading and writing rooms for the men. As several hundreds come in daily, I did not want to close the place up. The Brigade have given me a horse and trap, and also a bicycle, so I can get backwards and forwards quite easily. I have been wondering whether you got my last letter, including the picture postcards. I wish you would write and let me know as then I may be able to send you more. I expect before long we shall be moved out of that town, as the Germans will have probably knocked it flat. I wish I could let you know where I am as this is getting one of the busiest parts of the line, and you would be able to follow what we are doing from the official reports. At present we are in a rather curious position, which is, I think, common all along the line. Just behind our line and the German line, there are, of course, villages and towns flocked with troops. If they suddenly heavily shelled us, for instance, they would kill hundreds, but if they did, we should retaliate on their towns. The
roars all around are shelled, but whenever they send a dozen shells into our town, we send back about four dozen into theirs, and they quickly stop it. We always get a few in every day, as they try to shell the crossroads in the middle of the town. I can hardly realize I have been out here nearly a month. I wish you would send me a diary for 1916, so that I can keep an account of my doings and also some phosphoserine tabloids. I am feeling pretty fit again and my cold has quite gone, while I find my horse and trap a great boom. Will you give my love to Dad and all.
Your loving son Jack

No 7

23rd Inf Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F
May 16th 1916
Probably Albert
My dear Mother
You always write as if you were doubtful as to whether I am getting your letters. I do not think I am missing any unless you are writing very frequently. The last one I got was dated the 12th, and you mention in that that you have received the Post cards. I hope you will not lose them as they are rather difficult to get hold of. Do let me know whether you now know where I am. I am in the same division I have always been in, but I do not put it on the envelope, or I may get into trouble, as the authorities do not want it to be known which brigades are in the various divisions and armies. They are always shifting the troops about so that the Germans do not know who they have against them. I see there has been a lot of fun about the Anzacs lately, but I never see anything about the English Regiments which were out at Anzac, and did just as well as any of the Australians. I am glad to say that everyone out here is thoroughly sick of all this hero-worship and talk about the magnificence of the British Soldier: We seem to be perpetually patting ourselves on the back and mutually congratulating each other. The English Tommy who knows he is no better than the French or German soldier thinks all this talk about our wonderful army, absolute rubbish. He reads about the sacrifices made at home about which there is so much self-praise, and then he compares it to the sacrifices made by the French, and then he realizes how silly and trivial all our sacrifices seem in comparison with theirs. Our officers and men return from leave are quite despondent about it, and cannot help feeling that the National Mirror would do a very great deal if it attacked and destroyed this false pride in our army and our national efforts, and showed the nation that we, of all the allies, have the least cause to be proud of our achievements both at home and abroad.
I must stop now as my supper is up.
Your loving son Jack

No 8

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.
Probably Albert
19th May 1916
My dear Mother,
The weather has suddenly turned very hot and I am sorry just for that reason that I am not going back into reserve with my two regiments. They go back today for an eight-day rest from the trenches, but it is far from being a real rest as they are working all day on the roads and doing other necessary work. They are going six miles back into the woods and I shall have to go out and visit them most days. I am staying on here because my headquarters, which I started here, keeps on growing. I have now been given another big house in addition to my own to run as a soldier’s club. It has become the centre of all church life in the town and I have several hundred men in daily. I have a very very nice chapel which will hold about sixty men, and we close every night with prayers. The chapel is constantly used by other chaplains for celebrations etc: as well as being used by the soldiers for their private prayers. Talbot, who is the senior chaplain of the Division, is so anxious to keep the place running that he has asked me to leave my regiment for these eight days and stay on here.
Today week we have Bishop Gwyne coming here for a confirmation. There are about 50 to be confirmed and I am bringing eleven. Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury came to see us but he never came nearer than 10 miles from the line. All the chaplains in the neighbourhood went, but I did not, at present, like the idea of doing the 10 miles there and 10 miles back again on either a bicycle or horse, as I still feel a slight weakness in my stomach muscles, and so I missed it.
I expect before long that the Germans will make this town impossible to live in and that we shall have to clear out into dug-outs, but I do not think that this will be for another six weeks or so. I hope you are still at Harrowgate getting rid of your rheumatism.
Your loving Son Jack

No 9

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.
Probably Albert
May 29th 1916
My dear Mother
Last Friday I had a very busy day as I had the confirmation in the little chapel in my house here. There were fifty confirmed and we had a very nice service indeed, but there was rather a squash as we had many visitors besides. After the service I gave them all tea in my club next door. Both the Army Corps Chaplain and Bishop Gwynne were very much taken with my club and the chapel. The Senior Army Corps Chaplain is sending me a little billiard table and a gramophone for the club. While the candidates were having tea in the club, the Bishop and the Divisional Chaplain had tea in my house and several visitors came in including General Gordon, one of the Brigadiers: he was at Cambridge with the Bishop.
I have got Edith’s diary all right. It is rather small, but I think it will be quite sufficient. I am glad to hear that Dick has now got 20 boys. I hope he has managed to keep his masters. I suppose you are now back at West Kirby again and much better, I hope, for the Harrowgate water. With my best love to you and Dad and Edith.
Your loving Son Jack

No 10

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.in France
Probably Albert
May 31st 1916
My dear Mother
I wonder if you have heard from Edward. I have written to him, but I have had no answer as yet. I expect he is somewhere fairly close here, as we are expecting reinforcements on rather a large scale, but, of course, they will not come up to the front line for a bit, but will stay in reserve.
The Germans shelled this part of the town rather severely yesterday, and I am afraid we have had a good number of casualties. They luckily used only shrapnel and no high explosives. The house was hit three or four times, but the shrapnel bullets do not go through the roof, and merely break our slates. It is very stupid of them to do it, as they will get about six times as much back again onto their towns and villages behind their lines.
Everything goes on much the same as usual. We have not been quite so aggressive as we were about a month back, while the Germans seem to have got rather a surplus of ammunition which they want to get rid of. Consequently, our lines have been pretty heavily bombarded, and while our casualties have not been heavy, they knock our trenches about a bit and keep our men pretty busy building them up again.
My club is going very strong and my chapel gets more and more used. I have rather deserted my regiments, but Talbot thinks this place is so important as a centre that he wants me to stay on.
Your loving Son Jack

No 11

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.in France
Probably Albert
1st June 1916
My dear Mother
I have managed to get another writing block from one of the canteens, and so I am writing my first letter in it to you.
Yesterday I got your letter dated 28th May, so they reach me in three days time. I was wondering whether you saw that notice in the Times about the Statue of the Virgin and Child. I saw a picture of it in one of the recent illustrated papers.
I have not seen Arthur, and I think his regiment has moved. I made enquires north of this place, but could not find any traces of him. I have heard nothing whatever from Edward and you do not say in your letter whether you have heard from him. Today is Ascension Day and I have had three Celebrations in my Chapel, at 7.30, 8.30 and 10.30. They were all well attended. There is, of course, no church or anything of that sort, but there is a very dilapidated cinema palace in which we hold our big services, and also a very large wine cellar, which is quite safe being underground. But neither of these places have, of course, the right atmosphere about them, and they are always full of troops who are billeted in them while my little chapel is the only place which is kept as a chapel and which has an altar in it. Both men and officers use it and they do so appreciate the quiet. Unfortunately, the troops are always shifting. There are six lots of troops who come here for four days and then they leave again. Therefore I have a regiment here for four days and then they are away for 20, but the first of them are coming back again now, and do not have to be told about it again.
I have another chaplain living with me now. He looks after the gunners, and as we have the guns all around us here, it is an excellent centre for him, and it enables me to get away at times. The big guns are all behind us and they fire over our heads, while the field guns are just in front and on both sides of us. The noise at times is rather deafening. The next time my Brigade goes into reserve I am going with it. They go six miles back into a wood in about 10 days time, and I am rather looking forward to the quiet and rest, as I have never slept away from the town since I came here.
I am feeling very fit and well and I have plenty of work to do. I would very much like another bottle of those Phospherine Tabloids, the same as you sent me last time. Best love to you and Dad and Edith.
Your loving Son Jack

No 12

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.in France
Probably Albert
3rd June 1916
My dear Mother
We have been having a very busy time here lately, and my club is getting quite crowded out lately. Yesterday I suggested leaving it altogether and letting the Senior Chaplain of the Division, Talbot, come here to take my place. It is now the Divisional Centre for our work, and the Senior Chaplain really ought to be here to run it. All the orders come here now and officers who want services for
their men always come for directions here. Men also come about getting married, and I get frequent telegrams to send someone for funerals and also to visit the dying. There are innumerable other things they come for as well and I am beginning to find I am being kept so busy here that I am neglecting my regiments.
In the Brigade there are four regiments and two Church of England chaplains. My fellow Chaplain is a Devonshire vicar named Burnaby. He has two regiments and I have the other two. One of his is a Scottish Regiment, so they are nearly all Presbyterians, so he is consequently able to help me a lot. My predecessor was an excellent man, the Hon: Canon Twyrhett, one of the Canons of Windsor and a brother of the Naval Commodore, the Captain of the Arethusa. He worked the regiment up very well, but then, luckily for me, he got wounded. He was shot through the leg, but not badly wounded. He went home and is now quite recovered and is now Senior Chaplain to one of the new Divisions. I thought he might be in Edward’s Division, but I have made enquiries and I think he is with the 57th and not the 61st. Since I began this letter I have had visitors and also a letter from Edward. He says he is where Oswald was when he left for England, but as I don’t know where Oswald came from, it doesn’t help much. In your next letter, you might perhaps say where Oswald did come from, mentioning that he returned from there some time ago. I have been expecting that Edward’s lot would come up in reserve behind us, but he is apparently not there, but a good way off. It takes longer to get a letter from him than it does from you.
One of the most parts of my work is writing home to the parents and wives of those who have been killed. It is rather difficult to know what to say to them, as it is impossible to tell what sort of people they are. However, I have had some very nice letters back, thanking me for writing.. Best love to all at home.
Your loving Son Jack

No 13

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.in France
Probably Albert
June 4th 1916
My dear Mother
It is Sunday afternoon and the mail has just gone so I shall not be able to send this letter till tomorrow evening. I may be very busy tomorrow so I am writing now instead.
The Germans have been most unpleasantly active during the last 24 hours, especially during last night. After writing to you yesterday morning, I went
out and heard two rapid explosions just ahead. I went around the corner and found three dead men, one dead horse and 7 wounded men. They were not men of my regiments. The Germans dropped two shells and did no more. In the afternoon I went out to some Transport lines. There a heavy dray horse suddenly went mad and started going for everything. There was a rapid clearance made by all, including me. It was lucky I did move, as the horse made straight for where I had been standing and then fell as if it had been shot. It fell right on my bicycle, which I had left in my hurried flight, and simply crumpled it up. It is broken to pieces and entirely past mending. I shall have to get another one which may be a rather difficult job.
On getting back home again, I found a poor fellow had died suddenly. He was brought in with just a slight wound, a bullet having gone through his hand. Why he died is a mystery. To end a trying day, just when I got off to sleep at 12 o’clock, the gas alarm sounded and also the ‘stand to’. That meant dressing and getting to our stations in gas helmets. The Germans then heavily shelled the lower part of the town and kept it up until we let them have it back again with all our big guns. The gas did not reach us, but I think I would almost as soon have the gas as spending an hour in a gas helmet, heavily soaked with chemicals. It was not by any means a good preparation for Sunday.
I resume my letter on Monday morning. Last night was almost as unpleasant as the night before. There was a terrific bombardment but who started I have not yet heard. They drop a lot of lacrimatory shells in the town, but not very close, although we got the fumes. They are weird things as they do you no damage. There is just a sickly sweet smell, something like chloroform, and not at all unpleasant. Then your eyes suddenly run with water so much so that you cannot see. We have tightly fitted masks, which render these fumes entirely useless. The idea is to more or less temporally blind the gunners, so that they cannot see to load.
I have had many interruptions with this letter and I have had to go to a hospital four miles back since I wrote the above. The Germans were sending shells right over this town about a mile beyond, onto one of our main roads. It was not the road I was on, and it was a rather fine sight. For every one that hit the road, about nine landed on the fields on both sides and as the road was absolutely empty they wasted their shells. There are high canvas screens along the sides to stop the Germans seeing any movement on the road. I have heard that we did most of the attacking last night, and came out well on top. We raided their front trenches very successfully and when the Germans attacked in force, they got badly mown down and never reached our trenches. I think we have the upper hand all round here now.
Your writing pad has just arrived. Thank you so much for it. On reading my letter through, I see it is rather a gloomy one. But it conveys quite the wrong impression, as I am very happy and contented here and I love this life. There is no need to be anxious about me, as I have been under fire now long enough to know how to take care of myself, while no stray rifle bullets of machine guns can reach us here. We can always hear the shells coming and usually can get undercover. The men, though, are so very careless that they will walk in the middle of the road and never keep under the shelter of the houses. As soon as one shell falls, they go out and get souvenirs and get caught by the next shell.
In a little over a month, I shall be home again on my first leave if all leave is not stopped by then. We have leave for 10 days after three months service out here. With best love to Dad and at home.
Your loving Son Jack

No 14

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.in France
Probably Albert
June 7th 1916
My dear Mother
We have had a rather a lively time recently here lately, but we have achieved our object and I hope now that things will be a bit quieter. Matters terminated with a most terrific artillery bombardment starting at 11 o’clock on Monday night. The Germans retaliated briefly on our front expecting a raid from there. They sent a few shells into the town, but not a great number. We had previously moved many troops out of the town and everyone else had orders to get into the cellars. I was with the stretcher-bearers to get the wounded out, but there was very little for us to do, as the Germans did not really retaliate on the town as we had expected. When we did move out from our front line, they found no one alive in the first and second German lines. They were all helplessly smashed up. Last night they were digging furiously repairing their trenches all through the night, hoping we would not bombard them. Much to their surprise, we did not and we left them in peace to make their repairs. This morning they will have learnt the reason why with considerable dismay, for relying on the supposition that they would be busy all night mending their trenches, 900 of our men crept over the parapet. During the night without being seen and without a single casualty, they dug a fresh trench considerably in advance of out front line. It has straightened our line out and greatly strengthened our position.
Yesterday I buried seven of our men. It is rather strange taking some of these funerals. They are, of course, brought down just as they have fallen with a blanket over them and often covered with blood. What I mind most is having to bury just a bundle done up in a sack, the remains of some poor fellow who has been blown to bits.
I hope now that we shall have a more peaceful time. The Germans have had such a smashing that they may keep quiet for a bit, but one never can tell. In any case, I hope to be out of here on Monday for a week’s rest in the woods with my regiments. I have been up a great part of the last four nights and I can’t sleep in the day as I have much to do.
I do not think you know from our official reports what fighting takes place around here as it is always called by the names of the three villages now in German hands in front of our lines. This place is never mentioned and they just say fighting round so and so, mentioning one of the three villages in front of our lines. (Would suggest the three villages are Ovillers, La Boisselle and Contalmaison – Ed.).
My work here is going well, but it is with such a large number of men. There are seven thousand here, always changing, and I am quite looking forward to getting my own men again back in the wood, instead of always seeing fresh faces. As I think I told you in my last letter a man is here for four days and then away for twenty and as they always keep up the 7000, you can imagine how many new faces I see coming into my club.
We have just heard a most unpleasant rumour, which I hope is not true, namely that Kitchener and his Staff have been sunk on their way to Russia. This would be a terrible loss if true. With best love.
Your loving Son Jack

A too familiar role for John was the burial of the fallen. Here a Chaplain presides over a field burial of a Soldier Photo IWM

No 15

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.in France
Probably Albert
June 11th 1916
My dear Mother
Today is Sunday and this afternoon I am free so I am writing a short letter to you. We have had a very quiet and peaceful morning and I had a glorious service with 1500 officers and men present and my regimental band out to play the hymns. We had to go back some way for it to find a really safe corner. Nothing came near us the whole service and we were quite undisturbed. I have not had an opportunity before of getting my two special battalions together.
Tonight I am starting something I do not much care about: namely an evening Communion. It is done throughout the Army now because there are
such large numbers of men who never get off at all in the mornings. They have many times asked for this , but we have always managed to avoid it so far in this division. Today being Whitsunday, we are making a start.
I have not yet received the Phospherine. If by any chance you have not sent it, I hope you will send it at once as I am expecting a very trying time in a week or two. The noise gets rather on one’s nerves when the heavy guns are firing and I find I can not sleep at night. The Phospherine helps me a lot and I can usually sleep after taking it. I hope the four nights in the wood will put me right in that respect.
Conrad is now in the \Belgian Army; I have yet not heard from him since he reached France, but he is sending me his address as soon as possible. I have been quite unable to get any letters through to his parents and Mrs Wright, who is in charge of all the Belgians in England, most strongly advised me to let him join now.
Your loving son Jack

No 16

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.in France
Probably Albert
June 10th 1916
My dear Mother
I am still at the same place (Albert), but I am hoping to move for four days next week- back to the woods. I cannot get away for the full eight days as I had hoped. In less than a month’s time. I hope to leave this place for good. On the tenth of next month I am due for a holiday, but I don’t think they will grant me leave then. There is not much news to tell you at present. The club is absolutely full up night after night. I have had a gramophone, deck-quoits, a ring board and many other games given me by the Senior Chaplain of this Army. My chapel is now the central place of worship, as I have thrown it open to all the chaplains of another Division which has joined us here. It is perpetually being used.
The last three days have been quiet. A few shells come into the town daily, but not much damage is done. In the event of a really big battle, our plans have already been assigned to us. There are nine chaplains in the Division and there are nine stations for us to go to. There are three casualty clearing stations about 6 miles behind the lines, three advanced dressing stations about 2 miles behind and three stations in the trenches themselves, so I shall be with my regiment as I had wished. I shall be in the thick of it, but the modern dug-outs are thirty feet underground and we shall have very deep and safe ones for our
the first-aid post, so you need not be anxious. The losses are nearly are all caused when the troops go over the top to attack their trenches.
How very sad it is about Lord Kitchener. There are to be memorial services throughout the Army on Tuesday. I doubt whether we shall be allowed to have one here as we have to be very careful about collecting large bodies of troops together. If it became known through spies or they were spotted by an enemy aeroplane, we should very soon get shelled.. I must stop now. With best love to you and Dad and Edith.
Your Loving Son Jack

No 17

23rd Inf: Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F.in France
Wed June 16th 1916.
Possibly Aveluy Wood
My dear Mother
I have been in this wood for two days and it has rained practically the whole time. Consequently, the whole camp is in deep slush and mud, and it is anything but pleasant here with everything wringing wet. Today I am going back to pack up my things. I shall probably leave everything there in the cellar, although I expect to get back there in a few days. One can never tell what is going to happen next.
We had a very fine Memorial Service for Lord Kitchener yesterday. His death seems to have made a very great impression in England. Curiously it doesn’t seem to have affected the troops here at all. Even amongst the officers, there is a general sort of feeling that, whereas last year or the year before his death would have been a tragedy, now it is not an event of very great importance from a military point of view, as all his plans are in working order, and will be carried out regardless of his death. Everyone, of course, regrets the loss of so fine and great a soldier, but the troops are so brimful of confidence and enthusiasm, and so tired of all the preparatory work, that nothing can check their longing for the great offensive and they seem to have perfect confidence in their leaders.
I wonder whether you have been having as wet a June as we have. I think it has rained every day for the last fortnight at least. It is curious to notice how the firing brings it down. If there are dark and lowering clouds about, and the heavy artillery starts a bombardment, it comes down in sheets almost at once.
I must stop this letter as my cart is round, with my love to you all at home. Your loving Son Jack
P.S. The phosphoserine has arrived. Thank you so much for it. I have slept excellently again since taking it.

No 18

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Probably Albert
17/6/16
My dear Mother,
I got back from the Woods yesterday and I am not really sorry to be back because we have had such terrible weather this week. The whole of our camp was deep slush and it rained a great part of the time. However, I was able to get through quite a lot of work and I do not regret going in the least. The night before last I started out at half-past ten with my regimental doctor and we rode at night back through this place on to the trenches. We left our homes and went up to just behind our front line, where we are building our regimental aid post. It is fairly deep down and will keep out all shell splinters, and unless we get a shell directly on the top of it we shall be all right. I got back again at four o clock in the morning. I have slept so much better again since I have had the phosphoserine, and the 4 days in the wood have done me good. I leave here for good on Monday, and I expect to be sleeping with nothing above me except a waterproof sheet, for three or four nights, so it will be quite like old Gallipoli days.
I hope you are all well and that Dad is looking after himself properly and not doing to much work. I imagine you all in the garden today as it is the first really nice day we have had this June, with best love to all.
Your loving son Jack

No 19

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Probably Albert
18/6/16
My dear Mother,
I have been to Divisional Headquarters today to take the Senior Chaplain’s Services for him, as he is away on leave until Thursday. The Divisional General was there and also the Divisional Artillery General, with whom I stayed when I first came out here. Those two never miss the Celebration on Sunday morning, however busy they are. My own regiment is in the trenches and the other is scattered, so I am more or less free today and I am going back to Divisional Headquarters for a service this evening.
We have had so far a quiet day. Tomorrow is my last day in this place,
and I am very sorry to leave it. I am afraid there will not be much left of it shortly.
Monday morning
I have heard that I am now staying two or three days longer here for which I am very glad. The weather has turned wretched again and it is also very cold, so I was not looking forward to camping out in the fields with only my waterproof sheet for a roof.
The German aeroplanes were very active yesterday and they came over our lines in force, about nine coming over in one party and about six in another. They flew several miles inland and got a very hot reception. There were I think three brought down. We have the upper hand in the air, as ours go over every day, and it is very seldom that theirs ever come near our lines. Our shooting is twice as good and as rapid as theirs, and they nearly always turn and flee when our own aeroplanes appear. I think we have got them beaten in this neighbourhood, but one can never tell.
I regret leaving this place extremely. My home chapel and club, is now the centre of all our religious work here, and it will be a thousand pities if it is all destroyed. I do not, in any case, think that I should return here as I expect our troops will be several miles from here in a fortnight’s time, but it would have been very nice to have handed it over to incoming troops as a going concern.
I think of you often, enjoying the garden for the first time in June, although the weather is anything but garden weather. I am due for leave about the 10th or 12th of next month, although I rather doubt whether they will grant leave then. I am so glad that you will be out of Chester for the hot weather. I suppose you are going there in September. Best love to all.
Your loving son Jack

No 20

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
24/6/16
Aveluy Wood Trenches in front of Ovillers
With 8th Div
My dear Mother,
We have all been out for the last two days rather roughing it in a field. The first night was all right but we had a bad storm yesterday afternoon and it has rained on and off ever since. With the storm there was a gale of wind which blew my waterproof sheet off and my blankets and clothes etc. got rather soaked.
I have left, I expect for good, my club and house, and I have sent all the
things five miles back so that I shall have everything ready if I am able later on to start a similar club elsewhere.
We live from day to day in a state of greatest uncertainty, as we may shift at any time and we are certain to be moving forward in a few days time. The men are splendid and full of confidence.
I have not very much news to tell you, I am feeling very fit and sleeping in the open nights as well. I have never had any malaria at all, and I am hoping that it is now a thing of the past. I hope that you and Dad are not doing too much and that you are making the most of the garden.
With much love to all.
Your loving son Jack

The trench system that the 2nd Devons held the line before the attack on the Ovilliers spur

No 21

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Aveluy Wood Trenches in front of Ovillers
With 8th Div
29/6/16
My dear Mother,
This may possibly be the last time I can write to you, as I expect to be on the move again very shortly, and I have heard rumours that the mail is to be closed except for Service Post Cards.
It has been very wet here and windy. The men are in the best of spirits. This morning the Colonel spoke to them, and I closed with prayers. You will be reading in the papers of our bombardment. The noise is terrific. My old house has had a shell in it. It went through the stairs wrecking the kitchen, but beyond the hole in the wall of the house, and stray bricks knocked out and all the plaster down it has not done so very much damage, and the standing structure is quite strong. The Club next door had a lot of shrapnel bullets in, but otherwise, it is untouched.
I must stop this letter now, as my servant is waiting to take it back to Headquarters. With much love to all.
Your loving son Jack
Like so many German-held front line villages, Ovillers and its close neighbour La Boisselle were situated on spurs with excellent observation over the British lines. Both were heavily fortified and were able to give each other supporting cross-fire.

No 22

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Barlin ?
July 10th 1916
My dear Mother,
We have had rather a rough time of it during the last week, but we are now withdrawn and in an entirely different part of the line, only about eight miles from the place where Oswald came from when he last went on leave. I am this afternoon to make enquiries to see if I can find Edward. There is I am afraid little chance of my getting home while this fighting is still on.
Will you send me some more phosphoserine as soon as possible. I am quite well and fit but I should like a rest.
Your loving son Jack
P./S. I do not expect this letter will reach you and so I am sending one of the usual PCs as well.

War diary 1st Jul. The 8th Division of III Corps, put all its three brigades in the front line, to assault the Ovillers spur, the dominating feature immediately north of the Albert to Bapaume road. The 8th Div. objective was a line from north of La Boiselle past Ovillers. Attack on Ovillers failed due to failure to destroy enemy machine guns or adequately cut the barbed wire – 221 Killed in Action, 431 Wounded in Action. The 2nd Devons relieved and taken out of line that day.

No 23

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
My dear Mother
Your letters have been delayed even more than mine have. While we were in the thick of the fighting I sent you a card daily as I knew the letters would probably be held up. In your last letter dated July 3rd which I have just received you say nothing about having had any of my cards yet. I am sending one again today in case this letter does not reach you. I cannot of course say anything about the battle, but you can imagine what it must have been like for the troops who went over first, and began the attack.
We are right away now close to where I thought Edward was, in an entirely different part of the line. I do not think Edward ever had been there at all. There are no traces of his division there, and another army holds that area. I have been wondering whether there are two places with the same name. You need not be in the least anxious about me now. We are five miles from the line, and the Germans do not shell the place. We shall be here for some time awaiting new drafts of men from England.
Your loving son Jack
PS All here is closed, but as soon as it is open, I shall get a week’s leave.

Jul. The Division left the Somme for First Army. Arrived billets at Barlin 7 Jul .

In trenches at Cuinchy from14th Jul. Billets also at Annequin and Vermelles in this period.

No 24

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France#
Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
July 16th 1916
My dear Lucy,
To our great disgust, we are back in the trenches again, although we are nowhere near where we were before. We are in a lively and well-known part, but it is fairly quiet at present. When I mentioned the date on which my leave was due, I think I told you that leave would very probably then be closed for everyone; it is of course now closed and when it will be open again is uncertain, but they have put in my application, and I expect to get home as soon as it is open. In your last letter to me, you say that nothing has been mentioned in the papers about our lorries, but you will realise by the casualties now what an appalling struggle it has been.
I was very interested in hearing about Charlie. I am so glad he has been mentioned. I saw General Munroe’s list from Gallipoli. There is not a single one of my former Brigade mentioned. We were of course with the Australians and they have recommended plenty of their own people and not one out of the English regiment attached to their forces. They seem bent on claiming Anzac for themselves, and in the accounts of that Anzac Day a short time ago. I could not find any mention of the English or Indian regiments who were fighting alongside the Australians. There is rather a bitter feeling even here amongst the regulars. All the distinctions are going to Kitchener’s Army and Staff. The old infantry regiments who bear the brunt of all the fighting came off much the worst. It is, as a matter of fact, their own fault because the commanding officers don’t recommend their men. The men all do magnificently and it must be very hard to choose between them. The choice is made by a committee to whom the recommendations are sent and they seem to know very little of the actual conditions. If you write a flowery account and put the butter on thick, as the soldier’s say, your man will get a reward. The Regulars won’t do that, but they write a simple official account, in an official manner, and consequently, all the awards go to the new Army. I have heard from Conrad. He is on the coast training in the Belgian Artillery. He finds the work rather hard but he is getting used to it now. I have not heard from Edward for a long time now, I do so wish I knew where he was.
I must stop now with much love to you and Dad. I always address my letters to you knowing that you and Dad share them.
Yours affectionately J W Blencowe

5th Jul. The Division left the Somme for First Army. Arrived billets at Barlin 7th July.

No 25

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
July 20th 1916
My dear Mother,
We are still in the trenches and we are all very tired of it and wanting a rest. Both of my regiments are in and so I am in with them. In the past, they have relieved each other, and when one has been in, the other has been out and so I have usually been chiefly with the one that has been out, just making journeys up to the trenches by day. As both of my regiments are now in and I have no club to live in, as at the last place we were in, I am living entirely with my regiments, sleeping etc. in the trenches.
I wonder if you understood my last letter which I addressed to Edith. My task at present is rather depressing. It is almost like starting again, as nearly every face I meet is a new one, and almost all my friends are gone. I am afraid that there is very little chance of my being able to get any leave yet, and in any case, I think I shall wait until my regiments go back, as they must do soon, for a rest.
I should very much like to know where Edward is. The phosphoserine tablets came the other day and I was very glad indeed to get hold of them, as I had been out of them for some time. Give my love to Dad.
Your loving son Jack

No 26

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
July 23rd 1916
My dear Mother,
We are still in the trenches and likely to remain so as far as I can see. We have really had rather a bad time of it lately, and it is rather a strain for the men who were through the other affair as well. They need a month’s rest, right away from all sound of the fighting. Today is Sunday, but it is impossible to have a service. I just go round and talk to the men, and we are so close to the Germans in places that we have to whisper. The other day the Germans blew up a mine burying four of our men. It was, of course, impossible to get them out and their captain and sergeant and I crawled over the top to the mound under which they were buried and I just whispered the words over them. This mine warfare is terrible. They blow us up, and then we blow them up, it is just a question who can be first. We blew up a very big mine just after theirs and must have killed many of
them. I am very glad I am in the trenches with the men. I have got to know them more in this last 10 days than in all the 3 previous months. I feel sure that it is the best way of working. I must stop now, with much love to all.
Your loving son Jack

No 27

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
9/8/16
My dear Mother,
I am afraid that it is very nearly a week ago or more since I last wrote to you. We have been constantly on the march shifting about from place to place all this last week, but we are now in the trenches again. I have been rather seedy for the least few days chiefly owing I think to a bad cold, so I am not in the trenches with my battalions, but I am in a village just behind the line. I am going up to them this afternoon but I am not going to stay the night there, as it means sleeping out in the open.
There is no prospect of leave at present but I live in hopes of getting home soon. I have filled in a contract to stay on in the Army for another year. I am entitled at the end of my first year to a fortnight’s holiday provided I have had no leave during the previous 3 months.
My year ends on Sept. 17th. If I take leave now I lose this fortnight, but if I can get 10 days now I shall take it. If only a week’s leave is given I think I shall wait as they really means only 4 days in England. Everyone advises me to take it at the first opportunity as one never knows how soon leave will be closing again, but it seems almost worthwhile for the sake of a fortnight to risk losing four days.
I make spasmodic efforts to find Edward. I found out where he was but he shifted before I could get to him, and I have no idea where he is now. I suppose he will be due for leave before long.
I am not allowed to give you any news. I hope you are enjoying this glorious weather at Nevin and that you and Dad are much the better for the change.
Your loving son Jack

No 28

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
13/8/16
My dear Mother,
I hope you are still at Nevin, enjoying this lovely weather and that both you and Dad are ever so much better for the change and rest. I am still in the same place as when I last wrote. I cannot get rid of my cold and cough, although it is certainly not the weather for such things. The Germans have been shelling this place today, but most of them went well over. In our Division, there are eight chaplains and two of them had a very narrow escape, as the house they were in was hit. The roof and upper rooms were wrecked, but the house did not collapse, and they were all right in the room below. One of the two comes from something on the Mersey and he has often taken duty for Dad. His name is McCormack and he is greyhaired and elderly. I am hoping the Germans won’t shell us much, as the place is full of civilians who won’t leave their homes, and there are any amount of children about. I saw one little boy of nine brought into the hospital yesterday who had been hit by a bit of shell. He was badly marked up, and I should think dying, but it does not seem to make any difference to the rest of them, as they play about the street just the same, and then when a shell drops near the streets are empty , a few seconds as they all dive into the cellars.
I have been inundated with letters lately from mothers and wives of those who were killed in the push, so I will stop now to get on with them.
Your loving son Jack

No 29

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
16/8/16
My dear Mother,
I have received your last letter and I am glad to hear that you are sending out some more phosphoserine.. I am also very short of socks (kaki) and I should be very glad if you could send some out as well as the phosphoserine. I spend more and more of my time writing letters and most of them are very unsatisfactory. In addition to letters addressed directly to me, both my Battalion Colonels have taken to handing over a lot of their letters of enquiry to me. There is such a tremendous number missing and the parents want enquiries made. We are right away now from the place, and it is very difficult to get any more information. In the noise and excitement of the advance, some of those who came back have a very clear recollection of what happened to individuals and I get very conflicting reports. I think practically all of them are dead and we are by degrees getting bits sent up to men who have been reported missing, but whose bodies have now been found to be buried. The men are having a very hard time of it just at present and far worse than they have ever had before, with the exception of the actual push. I wish they could get right back for a month’s rest.
As far as I can see there is no prospect of leave starting again just as yet, and I expect I shall now wait in any case until September. From about a month today, I am due for a fortnights holiday at the end of my first year, provided I have had no leave during the three previous months.I must stop this letter much love to you and Dad.
Your loving son Jack

No 30

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area (Cuinchy sector
16/8/16
My dear Mother,
Both my battalions are out of the trenches at the present moment, and I am living not with the one I usually live with but with the other, as I have recently rather neglected this battalion for the sake of the other. Since we have been in this place we have been shelled every day always at different times. Last night they started between 12 and one, and they knocked the place about rather badly. It is rather disconcerting as it means a hasty retreat to cellars. They have not so far got many of our fellows, but I shall not be sorry to leave in two or three days time. It is rather difficult to give you any real news as we have been told to be very strict about censoring the men’s letters and so I have to be equally strict with my own.
My leave seems to be getting further away rather than closer, and it will be nearly the end of September before I can possibly get away but I am sure of getting a full fortnight when it does come, so I live in hopes. I had quite a big service this morning, and one of the principal generals came down and gave away military crosses and other decorations before the service. I hope Dad is all the better for his holiday at Nevin and that he is not so tired now as he was. I hope he won’t do too much over this National Mirror.
If you have any news about Edward, I should so like to hear what he says. I am afraid he must rather feel being away from the Regulars, and I should so like to know whether he writes hopefully of his new work. One hears all sorts of rumours out here.
I am quite fit again after a dose of flu. I had rather a temperature for two or three days, and I was very much afraid that I was not after all free from Malaria. But it turned out to be merely influenza which is rather prevalent just now.. Best love to all.
Your loving son Jack

No 31

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area
2/9/16
My dear Mother,
I have been travelling about a good deal during the last week, but I have got back again now. Both my battalions are in the trenches, but I am not with them this time as they are absolutely crowded out, and they are pulling down their headquarters and building new ones. I shall rejoin them when the new dugout is finished, as it is I am just behind them and I go in daily.
I am expecting now to get a fortnights leave on Wednesday, September 27th, but one can never tell from day to day what we are likely to be doing the following week, or where we may be, and if we were in the course of moving, or had just moved I should not like to be away.
There is practically no news to tell you, and so I will stop now, hoping you have all come back from Nevin very much better for your holiday. I do hope Dad won’t do too much and overtax his strength in working for the National Mirror.
Your loving son Jack

No 32

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Near Hulluch (War Diary)
11/9/16
My dear Mother,
It is, I am afraid some time ago since I last wrote to you, but I have been rather overwhelmed with work lately owing to many of our chaplains leaving, and changing. Just at the present moment, I am responsible for eight battalions instead of my usual two, but one of the chaplains is coming back on Thursday, and he will take four of them off my hands.
I have not had a letter from you for some time, and I am wondering whether your letters have gone astray. In your last letter, you said something about an officer meeting me named Porter from West Kirby. I wonder if you know what regiment he belongs to, as I do not remember seeing him at all. Judging by letters from Wokingham and other places lots of people have seen me, but I never seem to see them, and they never make themselves known to me. I am beginning to think that I must have a double in the Army.
I think I am at last going to get my leave at the end of this month. I have several things to do in London, but whether I do them last or first is at present uncertain, but I think I shall do them first. I think I get to England on Friday 29th. It is possible that I shall be able to get home on Saturday night, but it depends rather on when the boat leaves Boulogne, and how much time I have in London on the Friday. I think I shall probably have to stay until Monday. Well much love to all.
Your loving son Jack

War Diary 5th – 17th and 26th -39th Sept. 2nd Devons In the trenches including Hulluch Alley east of Hulluch. Casualties on most days.

No 33

Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
14th Sept 1916?
My dear Mother,
I have not had a letter from you for quite a long time and I am wondering whether your letters can be going astray. I am much looking forward to getting a holiday in about a fortnight’s time, and there seems every prospect now of my getting it all right.
I wish you would send me some more phospherine, and also another writing block. I cannot get any decent paper to write on here. It is all so very thin.
I have been very busy lately and I shall be very glad to get away if only to escape the letters. I have written in the past week to nearly fifty homes of men belonging to my own and to other battalions, announcing the death of husbands and sons, and it is rather trying work answering their questions. I am moving back with my battalion for eight days on Sunday.
Your loving son Jack

No 33a

23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters
B.E.F. France
Loos area (Cuinchy sector)
14/9/16
My dear Mother,
Just a line to let you know that I hope to get home rather earlier than I expected. I am now hoping to get to England on Tuesday, Sept 26th so I shall be home well
before the end of the week. Best love to all.
Your loving son Jack

No 34

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
Trenches near Flers
22/10/16
My dear Mother,
I have been through rather arduous times since I saw you, and I have had hardly any opportunity for writing. I am lying now on a waterproof sheet very wet and cold in a sea of mud, in the midst of a most terrific din. I had great difficulty in finding my men as they had moved from where they were when I left them. I am now attached always to this battalion so will you address my letters as above. The fighting now is terrible and far worse than anything, I have seen before, but the men are cheerful and full of courage and hopes, and I am very glad now that I can be with them always in bad times as well as good. We shall be severely tested in the next few days but pray God that He will bring us safely through.
Your loving son Jack
PS Give my love to Dad and all at home and tell Dad that I hope to see him next month.

War diary: 14  Oct. Returned to Somme area. At Montabaun camp by 21  Oct. 22  Oct. Took over Punch and Gap trenches south east of Flers as divisional reserve. 23  Oct. Moved forward to Needle Trench. 24  Oct. Attached to 25 Bde for attack on Zenith Trench but attack postponed to 29th Oct but cancelled after a bad relief of Misty Trench. 31 Oct. Moved back to rest near Meaulte.

No 35

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
In Citadel camp at Meaulte (War Diary)
2/11/16
My dear Mother,
I have just spent about the most unpleasant ten days I have ever spent in my life. It has been very cold and wet and we have been in up to our knees in mud and water most of the time in very bad trenches. I have got back now to a fairly comfortable billet and I have just had my first wash for over a week and it is the first time I have had my clothes and boots off for nearly a fortnight. Oswald’s grave is quite close and I shall try to go there, but just at present, my feet are very sore and swollen ñùñù I have just spent about the most unpleasant ten days I have ever spent in my life. It has been very cold and wet and we have been in up to our knees in mud and water most of the time in very bad trenches. I have got back now to a fairly comfortable billet and I have just had my first wash for over a week and it is the first time I have had my clothes and boots off for nearly a fortnight. Oswald’s grave is quite close and I shall try to go there, but just at
present, my feet are very sore and swollen ñùñù only my legs and feet that get really wet. I do not know what I should have done without that waistcoat.
I do not think that there is going to be any difficulty with my getting leave to go home for the Meeting. I think I can work it through the Divisional Commander. We are just off again at a moment’s notice. With much love to all.
Your loving son Jack

War Diary: 

7th Nov. Took over front line from 33rd Div. near Le Transloy. 8-9th Nov. Advanced to Autumn trench and dug Fall trench on crest of ridge.

No 36

Vergies
16/12/16
My dear Mother,
We are still in nice comfortable billets but not, I am afraid for long. I have been very busy both with correspondence and other matters. I have been able to do a lot of work amongst both officers and men, and I should very much like to stay longer here. My boots have never arrived and I have written to the Army and Navy Stores about them. With best love to Dad and all at home.
With the Season’s Greeting
And
Every Good Wish for a Happy Xmas
And
Prosperous New Year.
From your loving son Jack
2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment B.E.F. France

No 37

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
Vergies
4/1/17
My dear Mother,
I promised to write to Mr Wolcott and I started writing to him a long letter. I thought however that you might like to see it as well so I put two sheets of carbon reproducing paper under it, and I have sent the original to Mr Wolcott and one reproduction to you and the other to Aunt Polly. It is not I am afraid very legible.
When last back from leave I found my Battalion resting in a delightful village far from the sound of guns. ( Vargies ?) This village has never been in the war area and have consequently not been touched by shell fire, but with all the
population away for two years it has a distinctly dilapidated appearance. The mud walls of the barns have large gaping holes in them which makes them rather draughty for billets and there is a great lack of whitewash. The old people and children are all that is left but they carry on the work most splendidly.
You see boys of 13 and 14 at work on the roads – dressed in a rough sort of uniform and working hard entirely without supervision, doing their little bit for France. The old people both men and women are out early morning until late at night ploughing and working on the farms. The household work cooking and cleaning is done by little girls, too small to make themselves useful on the farm.
I was billeted in one of these farms with a delightful old couple. The man was 89 and incapable of work. He was full of reminiscences of 1870 and was muddled up in the siege of Paris. He used to sit in the kitchen – a rather poor, worn out old man with a weak and uncertain voice. Once he started talking he grew 20 years younger, his voice grew strong, his old eyes flashed, and with much gesture and waving of arms, he told his story. One by one he spoke of France’s wrongs and all that she had suffered from Germany and then he pictured his country ‘s triumph at the end of this war ending with a shout of “Vive La France.” Directly is was over he seemed to collapse and shrivel up into an old man again. The fact that I only understood about one word in every ten did not disturb him in the least.
Three days before Christmas they asked me to lunch together with the other officer billeted in the house. Two days before the old lady was shopping, driving off in a sort of large wooden box with perambulator wheels, and drawn by three patient and ancient dogs of a woolly sheepdog variety. The dogs in France are worked very hard and in a way which makes it clear that there is no Society for the Protection of Animals in France! The dinner talk was a great success. There were only four of us, but amongst many other things we had a rabbit and chicken and a round of beef all of which we had to eat, or grievously offend our hosts.
Directly Christmas was over we moved. Christmas itself was great like an old fashioned party with soldiers for children. In the morning we had our services in the village school. I had to have four company’s services to get them all in. I accompanied the Christmas carols on a harmonium and they went with a great swing, while afterwards, we had a Celebration at which there were very large numbers present. In the middle of the day came dinner, just like a children’s Christmas dinner turkey, pork and Christmas puddings – the officers looking after the men. All went very merrily with much speechifying and songs. In the evening we had our Christmas dinner, and after one last visit to the men to say goodnight, we all turned in but 24 hours later in the hut where we had been
mainly bedding each other goodnight, the battalion was drawn up in the dark in perfect silence waiting for the order to march. ( marched to trenches in front of St Pierre Vaast Wood ) As they stood there with their steel helmets on carrying their rifles, ammunition, bayonets, gas marks and all other paraphernalia of war the day before – Christmas Day – all seemed a far off drama. Before the day had finished we were amongst all the noise of battle and the following night we were all at the front line. I started this letter at the bottom of a deep German dugout, which was by the side of a rather famous road. ( Albert to Bapaume ) In this dugout we had nearly fifty men all the headquarters staff. Pioneers, stretcher-bearers, signallers and despatch runners made up this number, while the officers were the CO Adj, Doctor, Bombing Officer and myself. The duty hut itself was all lined with wood and was between 30 and forty feet deep. The Germans who had built the place of course knew exactly where it was and plastered it rather badly. It was too deep for them to blow up, but we had six men hit on the stairs, through two well-directed shells landing straight in the entrance. Two Germans, three days ago, lost their way while carrying rations and wandered up to our lines. They were called on to surrender, but they stood there in a dogged sort of fashion and then turned and walked leisurely back. There was of course nothing to do but to shoot, and they both fell. One was dead, and the other dying and we fetched him in. He was such a fine-looking boy and so grateful. We made him as comfortable as possible and he just kept on murmuring pardon, pardon and thank you very much, which seemed to be all the English he knew, until he died. He had such a nice group in his pocket of himself with his father and mother, and brothers and mates. These little incidents, which take place in the early morning and in cold blood are infinitely more trying, than by actions when many are killed. It all seems so beastly and trivial and wicked for a trenchful of men to kill one unarmed boy, but of course, it is all necessary. I admire the pluck and courage of our men in action immensely but I love and admire them much more for the way they care for the wounded, both our men and our enemy. They do all they can to kill the Germans, but if they only half succeed the care they take of their wounded foes is quite extraordinary. You see them giving them their food and drink, and during all, they can for them and this is I think one great point where the British soldier is so immeasurably superior to the Germans.
I am finishing this letter back from the line in a camp. We are crowded in tents with mud floors and thick mud outside. It is pouring with rain and awfully cold and windy. We are all pretty well we to the skin and we should be very wretched and miserable and half dead with influenza and pneumonia. But we are not in the least – everyone is hearty and well and half the camp is singing. I have run slap out of writing paper so I must stop now.
Your loving son Jack
P.S. This letter has got so wet and crushed on the march that it is almost unreadable and you must not try your eyes trying to make it out. Edith will read it for you.

An Army Chaplain of the Army Chaplains’ Department helping along a wounded German prisoner taken on the 13th of November 1916. Near Aveluy Wood. IWM

No 38

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F.
Trenches in front of St Pierre Vaast Wood
12/1/17
My dear Mother,
We have been in the trenches a great deal lately, and letter writing has consequently been very difficult. We are back out of the line, but not out of shell fire range, and at the present moment we are in a house again. The windows are marked, and there are holes in the roof and walls and not a scrap of furniture, but it is a great relief to have a roof over one’s head again.
I was very glad to hear that Edward’s and Arthur’s names were mentioned in despatches. I expect that you looked to see if mine was there also, but it will never be as long as I remain with the regulars. We get practically no mentions or distinctions whatever. The people in for the duration of the war get them practically all, chiefly because several of the honours carry a pension or a yearly annuity. That drops when you leave the army, and so the unfortunate regular who is in for 21 years gets left out, to save money. They also I think to expect a great deal more from the regulars than from Kitchener’s and what wins a distinction amongst them is passed over amongst us.
I sent you yesterday a long letter which I wrote to Mrs Woolest. You must not think that I find time to write to others and not home. I have very little chance of writing at all, but I got held up for two hours at the bottom of a dugout owing to a heavy bombardment, and I filled in the time by writing to him. He asked me to write when I went to see him that Sunday I was at West Kirby.
My work got increasingly difficult and we have had no services since Christmas and I am afraid we shall get none this next Sunday. Sunday does not exist when one is in the fighting area. Although we are in the reserve now and supposed to be resting, the troops have to work all day starting about half-past eight until dark. They go off in parties some going six or seven miles to unload trains, carry up ammunition, wine and stores of all sorts, to dig new roads and repair old ones, and to do many other similar jobs. This, of course, must go on every day, Sundays included. Much love to all at home.
Your loving son Jack

No 39

2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
???
21/1/17
My dear Mother,
I am at present staying with my second battalion, but I am in the same neighbourhood as before. We are resting at present, and I hope we shall continue to do so for another week, but everything is very uncertain.
The cold is rather trying. I am billeted in a tiny cottage, part of which has fallen down, stone floors and so very little glass left in the windows. There is no coal or coke to be got but with two others I have brought a tree, and we are burning that and so keep fairly warm. I sleep in a summer house and one of those octagonal ones thatched with straw which are so common in England. It has luckily a door and I have a mattress in there and so I am all right. There is not very much news to tell you. I hope after another three weeks we shall go away to another part of the line altogether. I think we have done our share here.
Everyone keeps well, but all are getting very war-weary. We had got the Germans beaten now, and this year ought to see the finish, but I am afraid there will still be a lot more lives lost before the end.
Best love to all at home.
Your loving son Jack
My address is as before
2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France

No 39

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
14/2/17
My dear Mother
We are back at last for a week or ten days, and it is very nice to be back in a house again. I am billeted with a French family, who have a small farm. They have given me a very comfortable room with a bed in it. It is the first time I have slept in sheets this year.
There have been some big changes in our Division lately. Our Divisional general is new, while three out of the four brigadier generals are new also, my own brigadier general being the only one of the old ones left. He is a very fine man and I hope very much that he will not go. The staff has all been changed as well. Of the eight chaplains, four have gone and another is going. It is the senior chaplain Talbot who is going and I am very sorry indeed that he is, as we shall never get another man as good. All these changes make me feel inclined transfer myself and I would do so if I wasn’t so attached to the Devons. The usual thing for chaplains to do is to spend their first six months at a base hospital, the next six months with the reserve troops and then come up to the line for another six months, after which they usually go back for a rest with the reserve troops behind the line, of which there are, of course, enormous numbers, and one has, in some ways, a better opportunity of getting hold of the men there. I believe there are six men behind the line for everyone in it. When Talbot goes there will be only one chaplain left who has been with the Division as long as I have.
There has not been very much chance of doing very much work lately among the men. When we have not been in the line, we have been hard a work making roads, building dug-outs, digging new trenches, unloading trains, carrying up stores and ammunition, and even now we are back it appears we shall spend the whole time training. However I have got to know the men which are a great thing.
I suppose you have now got Edward back home again with you. I expect I will be back with you again at the end of next month if all goes well and if leave is open then.
There is no leave being given now from this part of the front, and I doubt whether there will be for some time. We are all living in hopes of moving elsewhere, after our next spell in the line.
You have not said recently in your letters how Dad has been lately or whether this weather has had any effect on your rheumatism.
Your loving son Jack

No 40

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
Bouchevesnes Section with 4 Div
SW Moislains Wood opp Pallas Trench
28/2/17
My dear Mother,
My sheets and a nice warm bed about which I wrote to you in my last letter were not mine for long, as after enjoying the rest and change for two or three days we were suddenly quite unexpectedly sent back again. Your last letter to me shows that you know what we have been doing since. We have been doing very well lately, and it has not been quite so unpleasantly cold, but we have had no blankets up with us and it has been very chilly at nights sleeping on the mud
floor of a dugout. We are all also getting rather dirty as quite apart from the mud, we hope not had our clothes off for the last eight days. However as long as things go well it does not much matter.
We have had no mail for the last five or six days and we have sent no letters. The mail which has now arrived is rather a big one and I have a lot of letters to answer so I will write no more now. Best love to all.
Your loving son
Jack
P.S. There has been rather a lot of sickness which of course is bound to be so under these conditions, but so far I have kept very well.

No 41

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
8/3/17
My dear Mother,
We have had a very strenuous and very successful week as you may have seen by the papers. We are now back in huts and dugouts resting for a few days.
Next week I am going to S. Omer for a Conference and a Retreat. I shall be away a week, and I shall very much enjoy the rest and quiet. I am now due for leave but no leave is being given from here at all, and there does not seem to be much prospect of it being granted for some time. However I live in hopes of getting home by Easter time.
I have had a letter from Edward saying that he is within 10 miles of me. After I get back from S. Omer, we are going to try to meet.
I have not had a letter from you for some time, but I expect you have written and your letter has been held up. We often go four or five days without a mail, as there are difficulties in getting them up to us.
I am very well but it is bitterly cold, living in a hole in the ground sleeping on the floor and being without fires, sounds very unpleasant, but one soon gets used to it, and it will make our home lives all the pleasanter when we get back to them.
Your loving son Jack

No 42

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
St Omer
18/3/17
My dear Mother,
I am having a most enjoyable week right away from the line with several other Chaplain’s who have been out here a long time. We are having discussions on various subjects and two quiet days. The weather also has been perfectly glorious for the last few days, and I am enjoying the change and rest immensely.
As you will see for yourself in the papers we are having a very busy and strenuous time. It is all very interesting but it makes our work extremely difficult, as everyone is hard at work the whole time. I am hoping that I may get leave soon, but it is very doubtful
Your loving son
Jack

No 43

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. Franc
( Lieramont)
26/3/17
My dear Mother,
I have had one of the most delightful weeks in my life, and I am now back again with the Battalion thoroughly rested and refreshed. The place ( Lieramont) where I am now is providing us with a new sort of billet in the shape of cellars, and we are all very pleased with them. There are five of us in my cellar, so we are rather crushed but the whole roof has fallen in on the top of the cellar, and so it keeps the rain out. The four walls of the house are still standing and as they may fall down any moment, we are going to empty our cellar, and then pull them over or blow them up. Then if the cellar does not collapse under the weight we are going to return, and make the place really comfortable.
The villages around here is an extraordinary sight. Most of the houses are down altogether, and those that are left just have the walls standing. What they will do with them after the War I cannot imagine as there are dead horses and men all over the place, – the men have just been lightly buried and the horses are not buried at all, and the stench is pretty bad now. What it will be like in the Summer I can’t imagine – the ground will be useless and poisonous for years.
I have written to Edward and tried to fix up a meeting place. I shall have to do six miles back, as he is coming by car and all the roads are smashed to pieces around here.
I have recently had another letter from Pyke. I showed you a former letter of his. He has been very ill indeed again and is dying of consumption although he does not know it. He gets better and out of bed for a week or two, and then had another very bad turn. I want you to keep this letter for me. I am
trying to get leave, which will have to be special leave as there is no leave open so that I can fix Robert up at Wokingham. I am going to apprentice him to a chemist as I think he ought to learn something about the work now if he is going to take on his father’s business later on.
Someone is waiting for this letter to take it back so I will close now.
Your loving son Jack

No 44

2nd Devonshire Regiment
B.E.F. France
( Lieramont)
18/4/17
My dear Mother,
I have very little news to tell you although there is a great deal happening of interest, which I am not allowed to write about. My leave seems to grow further away rather than nearer, but I am hoping to get away before the end of the month. When I do get back I shall have to be two days in London and another day at Wokingham. I want to apprentice Robert to a chemist to learn something about medicines, and I have also to arrange about his lodgings etc. I am afraid it may be rather an expensive business as I shall, of course, have to pay the chemist as well.
We are all looking forward to the summer and to dry weather again. It keeps on alternatively snowing and raining, and as we are constantly on the move, and sleeping on the ground in holes in the ground or under a bit of corrugated iron, the weather makes a lot of difference to our comfort at night. Love to all at home.
Your loving son Jack

30th March 1917 2nd Devons attacked at Heudecourt successful. Could J W B have been buried alive in the action, sometime after 18th April 1917 after which he was invalided back to Woolwich Hospital?

Letter written on May 2nd from Queen Mary’s Hospital
Further letters
The Queen’s Hospital
For Sailors and Soldiers suffering from Facial and Jaw Injuries
Frognal, Sidcup, Kent
Patroness:
Her Majesty The Queen


2nd May 1918
My dear Mother
We have been having rather a trying time lately. We have had to turn out all our old patients as we get two convoys every day. Nearly everyone has been just recently badly wounded, and practically all are in bed, and we have had a large number of deaths.
We have had a great number of distinguished visitors down here and it is always my job to receive them and take them around. Two days ago we had Queen Alexandria round. She is a most amusing old lady, very strong-willed and quite deaf. The Colonel came round with her as well, for which I was rather thankful. She was always asking questions—————–2 lines of letter torn out—————–who is King Constantine’s sister. She ought to be interned! I had a very nice letter the other day from Princess Helena Victoria. The last time she was here she asked me to go up and have lunch with her in London, and then go on with her to see some huts in which she is very much interested. I rather hope I shall be able to avoid that. I shall not mention it again, but I expect she will be down here tomorrow and if she says any more about it , I will have to go. Her mother , Princess Christian, sent me ten pounds at the beginning of the week for my chapel and I am hoping Queen Mary will send me something too. I have had Dartford Aerodrome taken from me, but there has been trouble down there and they have asked my senior to let me take it on again, which he has done. It is, I suppose, a great compliment, but it is a great nuisance. All the work I do is badly done because I have not time to ———-2 lines of letter torn out ————for an early celebration at 6. The news has been rather better these last two days, but there is undoubtedly a very big battle coming on. The Germans are so badly placed. They cannot stay where they are, and if they cannot go forward they must go back. I think it will be the beginning of the end. The men just back all say the German losses are appalling. I hope the waters are doing your rheumatism good and that you and Dad will be much better for the change.
Your Loving Son Jack

After surgery and a period of convalescence JW was sent to serve at St Mary’s Hospital Sidcup which had under the direction of Harold Gillies begun a new development in facial surgery. Photo The Plastic Theatre, Queen Mary’s Hospital, 1917. Harold Gillies is seated on the right.

JW’s son PJB Blencowe writes “After April 1917, after he was seriously wounded, J W B never returned to Flanders. After a number of operations, he was never pronounced fit enough. Instead, he was appointed Chaplain to Queen Mary’s Hospital Frognal, where he administered to the sick, wounded and dying.”

P.J.B. December 2006

Note

Examination of the war diaries for 1917 of the 2nd Devons cannot confirm the incident when JW Blencowe was buried and wounded. It entirely possible this incident was not reported in the diary at a very busy time or that he was attached to another Battalion at that very moment.