David James’ WW1 Story

For links to the full downloadable versions of each letter, click on the image of the letter as displayed throughout.

David James in his military uniform

Before the war, a young David James worked as a draughtsman at Dowlais Colliery. Within this collection we have highly detailed photographs of his tool kit which he used for this job.

May – August 1915: David enlisted into the British army in 1915, where he travelled from his home village of Dowlais to complete training in White City, London. He would spend only a few months here, however despite this relatively short stay, he would write many letters to his family back home, especially to his beloved mother, Minnie and within these letters, David’s vibrant personality shines through. He clearly was a protective young man, truly embodying the temperament of an elder sibling within a large family of children. He constantly asked after his brother’s, who shared a similar experience fighting on the front lines, as well as his much younger siblings, Billy and Winnie, who he persistently sends beautifully embroidered postcards and presents.

Through the correspondence he sent back home, we learn much surrounding the day to day of his life during training. In one letter, he writes of how he was coincidentally stationed in a room with another man named David James, resulting in the apt nicknames D. James 1 and D. James 2 being distributed. He himself was lucky enough to receive the D. James 1 moniker amongst the two.

Another fascinating aspect of his letters from London, comes when he mentions receiving multiple vaccinations during his stay, remarking on how unwell one in particular made him feel. This is a feeling that will resonate strongly with many of us in today’s post-COVID world.

In a letter to his brother Jack, he describes how he enjoyed his time in White City immensely, despite it being a highly strict and regimented routine. In his own words;

“You have to pluck the dust out of your ears, as they say.”

August 17th 1915: Once David’s training was complete, he would be sent to the frontlines in France, beginning a year-long journey fighting on the frontlines. Tragically, he would never make it home to Dowlais after the war, experiencing first hand just how cruel life and death within the trenches could be.

The Thunder Of The Guns Never Seems To Cease:

September 30th 1915: In a letter to his mother, David writes of how he was met with horrible gases and machine gun fire in an engagement within the trenches. He is quite clearly shaken by this experience and vents about how he must be careful with what he writes as;

The censors may erase a lot of what I have said…”

It is important to remember that letters sent back to Britain were often censored for security reasons, hence why many of the letters included within this collection have had the top of the page, housing the address, torn out. The psychological effect of not being able to truly express the pain of your experiences that this would have on a soldier was clearly immense.

“I am suffering a little from the hardships which I have just been through.”

November 6th, 1915: In a letter to his father, he writes;

“I know what it (battle) is like now, as I have had a taste of it.”

November 15th, 1915: In a letter to his mother, he give his thought’s on his youngest brother Tom, who has recently enlisted himself into the armed forces. He writes;

Tom James

“I received Tom’s letter yesterday, and was greatly surprised to hear that he has enlisted. I would much rather that he had not done so, he is not of age for one thing, and surely two of us out of the house is quite sufficient.”

July, 1916: After hearing about his other brother Jack’s recent injury, David writes;

“I’m glad to hear that Jack’s wounds are not too serious…”

The story of Jack’s injury can be found within his own page here.

But Cheer Up, We Will All Be Back Home Sometime:

January 17th 1916: David finally has time to pen a letter to his youngest brother, Tom, to catch up on the comings and goings of the family. David is troubled as he tells Tom that he has not heard from Jack in a while, and is unsure as to the whereabouts of his battalion. In other, happier news, David discusses how their sister, Letty, has become engaged. He reaffirms how he hopes to one day have the chance to meet her new fiancé.

September 1916: David took part in the Battle of Flers–Courcelette, part of the 5-month Battle of the Somme. This battle was the first ever to see the deployment of tanks on a European battlefield. On the 19th of September, six days before his death, David wrote his final letters within this collection. One he addressed to his mother, describing how he had charged through gunfire and somehow once again come through unharmed. Nevertheless, the horror of the battle had taken its toll. He writes plainly;

“It is a terrible day today.”

September 25th, 1916: David is killed in action at the age of 24. A telegram is soon sent home to his parents, detailing the manner of his death. Tear stains blot the paper in a poignant reminder of the terrible cost of war. This would be the James family’s first loss from the Great War, but sadly, not the last.

If you wish to delve further into David’s story, please click on the icon below titled PCW: The David James Collection to access the full collection of his letters, postcards, medals and more.

You can also explore the stories of his brothers, Jack and Tom, by following their pages below.