For links to the full downloadable versions of each letter, click on the image of the letter as displayed throughout.
Before the war, Jack worked as an apprentice fitter in his home village of Dowlais. He entered the theatre of war on December 1st 1915. Much like his brother David before him, he wrote letters back home to his family, describing the day to day workings of his time within the trenches. He would spend over a year there, until he received a wound to his right arm. While not life threatening, he would be taken multiple war hospitals, spending a large majority of the rest of the war in hospital.
March 22nd 1917: Most of the letters that we have from Jack contain no date on them, except two, which were most likely written before his injury. Addressed to his mother, he states ‘I am still alive and kicking’ before describing the current conditions of his stay in France. Much like David, he too has become frustrated with censorship by this point, stating;
May 22nd 1917: In a letter addressed to his mother, Jack describes the appalling conditions in which he recently had to sleep.
“We are billeted in a large barn which is swarming with rats, and at night they come out in full force walking over the chaps and some cheeky enough to sit on one’s face and even nibble at you big toe if it is poking out of the blanket.”
Moreover, he fears that illness will run rampant in the trenches once again, stating;
As mentioned earlier, Jack would sustain a bad injury to his right arm in the trenches. He was sent various war hospital’s back in Britain during his long recovery, most notably in Blackwell, Rednal and Hollymoor. His postcards and letters home did not stop however, and we have many that provide us a great insight into life for wounded soldiers in war hospitals. The first postcard with have addressed to Minnie James from the 1st Birmingham War Hospital, Rednal, Birmingham, has clearly been scribed by someone else; a nurse, doctor or friend perhaps, as Jack was clearly unable to pen it himself. However, it is still addressed from Jack himself, with it stating that he has sustained a bullet wound in his arm and has arrived in hospital where he is comfortable.
Jack later began writing his own letters again, beginning to use his left hand as a substitute for his write. Early on in his stay at hospital, he was given a Copy Book ‘for Teaching the Disabled to write well with The Left Hand.’
Jack James Letter 1.6 in The Minnie James Collection is potentially one of the first letters he wrote back home using his left hand. Within it, he discusses how this is slow work, but he is beginning to adapt to this new manner of writing. As we go through Jack’s letters from here onwards, you will notice a clear progression in Jack’s handwriting with his left hand, which is one of the best ways that we can date these later without any address line.
In another letter, Jack asks after his younger brother, Tom, stating;
“If Tom happens to come home before my arm is healed up, you must let him come up to see me.”
We are unsure of exactly how often the brothers got to see each other while serving in the army, but we can deduce from their letters that they would have had multiple occasions to meet during their service.
In another, addressed to his sister Letty, Jack jokes;
In Jack James Letter 1.7 we can see the definite improvement made to Jack’s handwriting as his time spent at hospital increases. This letter was most likely quite late in his new writing development. Within it, he also writes of how his right arm is ‘splendid,’ and how he ‘hopes to see it heal up this time‘ after addressing the treatment which has continued to help him along the road to his recovery.
Letter 1.11 again shows just how far Jack has come when writing with his left hand. Here, he writes before being moved to a new hospital, where he is excited about the prospect of being able to where the khakei colours once again rather than the blue of a patient.
Aided by his long stay in hospital, Jack James would survive the war, being awarded the British Victory and War medal along with the 1915 Star and the Silver War Badge for his wounds and was discharged from hospital on the 28th of January 1919. Tragically however, he would nevertheless contract tuberculosis and die far before his time, eighteen months after Tom and four years after David, on the 23rd June 1920, at 8 Cross Francis Street, age 24. His father was by his side at the end.
Jack’s story provides us with an intimate insight into the daily life of the war wounded. If you wish to delve further into Jack’s story, please click on the icon below titled PCW: The Jack James Collection to access the full collection of his letters, postcards, medals and more.
You can also explore the stories of his brothers, David and Tom, by following their pages below.