For links to the full downloadable versions of each letter, click on the image of the letter as displayed throughout.
Before the war, Tom James was still attending school in his home village of Dowlais. As the youngest amongst his brothers, he was the last to enlist into the British army. In one of David’s letters, he mentions how Tom was underage when he did this and so he represents a large number of British young men who also enlisted illegally to fight in the Great War.
In a letter to his father, Tom states that while training at Kimmel Park, he was confused with another soldier and subsequently allotted excused duty, as opposed to light duty, in his place. Instead of reporting the mistake, Tom admits to having taken advantage of the situation and accepting the benefits of said mistaken identity. Nevertheless, he admits to feeling ‘a little bad’ about this, but stuck to the act until he was found out and punished.
In an early letter from the trenches, Tom describes being shelled by the Germans, before signing off with the touching line;
Later, in a letter to his friend Davy, Tom states;
“They shelled us one night until I thought my number was up, a few of my pals that came up with the same draft as me have gone under…”
As well as stating that although he has seen Jack in the trenches before, they have now been stationed in the same division;
In a letter addressed to both his mother and father, Tom describes the horrific experience of being exposed to mustard gas.
“The Germans have been trying to gas us for the last few weeks.”
Luckily for Tom, he was only partially exposed and suffered very minimal side effects. Showing the true extent of his bravery, Tom remarks;
September 13th, 1918: Tom is suffering mentally. In his own words;
“I have had some terrible experiences during the last few days and have had remarkable luck’. I hardly thought I would come out of it alive.”
He laments over the death of his friends and brothers in arms, who have perished in recent battles.
“We have had many casualties and some of my best pals are among the killed.”
He even states that because of a number of factors, the British accidentally fired upon their own soldiers;
“We came under our own shell fire as well as the enemies.”
Later, in a letter to his mother, Tom states that he has been appointed as one of the headquarters staff members. However, unfortunately this doesn’t stop him from going into the trenches as many would think. Around this time, Tom is severely injured in battle, through which complications would later arise which would result in his untimely passing.
Unlike both his brothers, Tom would live to see the armistice signed and peace restored across Europe. However, rather than returning home, Tom would remain in France until his death. Stationed in a small village by Mons, Tom wrote back home describing his whereabouts when the armistice was signed.
While stationed here, he writes a final letter to his mother. He signs off with;
“Well goodnight and God bless you all.”
On the back it reads ‘Past of one. Received the week he died.‘ It is unknown as to who wrote this or when.
On Christmas day 1918, Tom sadly passed away, dying from his wounds, age 21. He was the second son of Minnie James to die as a result of WW1. He was awarded the British Victory and War medal.
December 29th, 1918: The last letter in The Tom James’ Collection is written and addressed to Minnie James, but not by Tom. Instead, a friend writes to her in an attempt to provide his mother the details of Tom’s death and bestow her with some sort of closure.
“He was buried with full military honours. on the 27th (of December, 1918.)“
“A large number of his friends attended to pay their last tribute to a hero.”
Tom’s story provides us with a tragic insight into the fact that even after peace was declared, the casualties of war sadly continued long after. If you wish to delve further into Tom’s story, please click on the icon below titled PCW: The Tom 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 Jack, by following their pages below.