Letters to Kate and Jack

TWO letters written on Sunday 30th December 1917. The Battalion's War Diary records only that there was a church parade on that day, so he would have had the time to write. Reminder, the days in 1917 match 2007 so the 30th December was a Sunday for Harry also.

December 30 1917
9th Batt York and Lancs
C Company
12 platoon
L. G. section
BEF Italy

Dear Kate

I have received a letter from you and was very pleased, it is such a long time since I had one. I have not received the parcel yet and I hope it will come I am ready for it I think parcels will reach us all right after Christmas. It is very cold at night but in the daytime it is alright. I hope you got home for Christmas and found them well and enjoyed your holiday. Did you get the card I sent you. I have had a letter from Jack he’s getting on alright, I am pleased to hear it. I hope Connie is better when you receive this letter. Let me know how Willie is if you happen to get home. Has Annie been to see Jack since he got married. Ethel said she was very likely going after Christmas. Glad you are getting on alright at Leeds but I did not expect you would like it the same as London. I hope you have had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Write back as soon as possible and let me know how you are all going on

With love from Harry

9th Batt York and Lancs
C Company
12 platoon
L. G. section
BEF Italy

Dear Jack

I have received a letter from you and a box of biscuits all right. I got them on Christmas morning and you can bet how pleased I was. I have also had a letter from Kate she said she was having a holiday this Christmas the first for seven years. I hope she enjoys herself. I’m sorry to hear that Mr. Thomas’s son as got killed what date did it happen. I have had a letter from Mrs. Higgins I shall write back as soon as possible. Ethel says Connie has not been very well lately but I hope she gets on alright. I am pleased to here you are getting on all right and very happy. I hope you enjoyed yourself this Christmas. They all seem to be well again at home except Connie and I think she will be alright. Glad you liked the card I sent you. I thought it would suit alright. It is very cold out here at night but it is alright at daytime. Write back as soon as you can and let me know how you are getting on.

With best love from


Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas to all our readers. There is quite a community out there.

As you will have gathered, Harry is now in Italy. He is currently billeted in MONTBELLUNA, about 30 miles North of Venice, at the foot of the Dolomite mountains.

In the morning Harry would have watched a football match. (Soccer, for those readers from across the Atlantic.) 9th York and Lancasters won 7-1! He enjoys a Christmas dinner of roast pork with Christmas pudding, fruit and wine. The day is rounded off with a concert. (See the Battalion's War Diary for more details.)

Christmas Card from Ethel

This is the only item of correspondence between Harry and Ethel, his wife, that has survived. Harry would surely have treasured this. How it survived, how it got home? Sorry, I have absolutely no information on that. Click on the images for a larger view. The "silk" card is quite impressive.

Kate's Examination Results

More searching has turned up the vellum certificate that Kate earned in her examination in June 1917. Her brother John had written to her giving advice on how to prepare for it. (He was a school teacher before he became a clergyman.) I'll link to the scan and transcript of the letter.

The language and termininology are quite entertaining. Could the "Royal Sanitary Institute" exist today? "Inspector of Nuisances " is a wonderful job title.

Intriguingly, Jack signs the letter to his sister "with best love J. E. Lamin" not "Jack" or even "John"!

Was this just from habit after writing letters as a clergyman? Was he being a little pompous? Who knows?

Letter to Jack December 1st 1917

Dec 1st 1917

Dear Jack

I have just received a small packet from you and was very pleased with it. It was a good job it was something that would keep as it was the dated Nov 8th. I have also received a letter Nov 14th. The lady you are marrying I can remember quite well. Well I hope you are married by now. I can remember two lady teachers Miss James and a Miss Meredith who were at East Oxford. We have had some good marches this last fortnight which I should have enjoyed better had we not quite so much to carry. The weather has been just right for marching the roads are very level out here you can see all the big hills or mountains in the distance with snow on them the scenery would be grand in summer time. I am pleased they are going on all right and home and that you are keeping well. glad to hear about Kate. I think it is very good of them to buy you a present worth about £10 it should be a good one. We are getting on better for food now but very short of bread. Don’t forget to put Italy instead of France I hope you have a Merry xmas and a Happy new year. I’m going to try to get a card to send you for Christmas. Write back as soon as you can and don’t forget.

Yours Harry

War Diaries & Comments

The War diaries of Harry's Battalion are well worth investigation. They are written at the time by the Battalion Adjutant and give the "official" account of the progress of around 1,000 men as they go through the war. They are brief, around a couple of sentences most days.

I have transcribed them from August onwards and will continue as long as the "Blog" keeps going.

The comments that readers have put onto the various posts are extremely gratifying. I've collected them together in a separate Blog so that they can easily accessed. New comments are always welcome. If any questions are raised by the comments, I do try to answer them there. BL

Letter to Jack 25th November 1917

25 November 1917

Dear Jack

I hope you are getting on alright as I am in good health at present except bad feet after a lot of marching. My address is the same as usual, except you must put Italy instead of France. When you write I should be glad if you would send an envelope and paper. I have had no white bread lately we have been on Italian rashing (Rations?) would be glad if you could send me a parcel I have not had any for weeks. Let me know how you are getting on. I think Mr. Thomas’s son is in the same division as we are. if so he has come to Italy too. I shall be glad to get home again to see you all. Willie is getting on well and gets a big boy they are all in good health and dad is about the same. I think he is a marvellous fellow. We have seen some fine scenery on our travels. We were 4 or 5 days in the train it is alright down south of France and very pretty. Write as soon as possible

with best love


Letter to Kate 23rd November 1917

We can see from the Battalion's war Diary that Harry is marching to the front line. The distances don't sound too demanding in today's terms but it is likely that the men were carrying their normal equipment and rifles all of which would weigh up to 30Kg (66lbs). On top of this, they were not well fed and had just spent 6 months in the Flanders battlefield.

On 23rd, the distance marched was one of the shorter ones, 7 miles, and they were in Billets by 1 pm. That would give Harry the chance to write the letter.

Nov 23rd 1917

Dear Kate.

Just a line to let you know I’m going on all right. I should be pleased if you could send some powder the next time you write the cake was grand you sent. I hope you get on all right with your fresh job.my address is the same only put Italy instead of France. Would be pleased if you could write once a week if it was only a line will write again as soon as possible.

With best love


Card from Harry to Jack November 15th 1917

Apologies to readers. A small note was wrongly filed and so arrived a little late. Fortunately Harry is Ok. and has shifted his war to Italy, arriving last Thursday, when he wrote this letter.
(A reminder - Ethel is Harry's wife)

Nov 15th 1917
Dear Jack

I am going on all right, will write as soon as possible. Hope the wedding comes off alright. Write and tell Ethel you have heard from me. Love Harry

The Train Journey

I have at last received the copies of the Battalion's War diaries for November. We can see what Harry and his comrades were up to while we wait for his next letter.

They would certainly have seen some interesting parts of France. The Rhone Valley, Marseille, Cannes and Nice would have been a little better in peacetime!

Follow the link to the Battalion's War diary to read the detail. BL

All change for Harry's Battalion.

On 23 October 1917, orders were received to prepare to move to an unknown destination.

Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig inspected the Division at Leulinghem on 31 October. (See the War Diary entry for 31st October)

On 6th November the Division, including the 9th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment entrained for the lengthy move by rail to Italy.

Today, 11th November 1917 the Division arrived in Italy and started on the long march to the front line.

Passchendaele - the final score.

I would like to copy this blunt summary of the Passchendaele offensive.

"On 26 October the Canadians set out for their ‘Road to Passiondale’ in the pouring rain. Five days later General Plumer gets even more troops at his disposal. Meanwhile the name of the village has acquired mythical proportions: ‘Passion-dale’, ‘the valley of suffering’.

On 6 November the Canadians manage to occupy the village, or what is left of it. They can make no further progress and on 10 November the offensive peters out on top of the ridge.

The result of Haig’s ‘Flanders Offensive’ is distressing: after 100 days the allies have advanced hardly eight kilometres.The human toll is enormous. 250,000 Allies killed, injured or missing, a quarter of the troops deployed. On the German side losses are just a bit lower."

12th October 1917 - 1st battle of Passchendaele

As promised, a sort of explanation of the heavy casualties suffered between the 11th and14th October.

On those days, the battalion was in the front line for the first Battle of Passchendaele. A very significant feature of the battle was the rain. Torrential rain fell on a battlefield where all the field drainage system had been destroyed in the fighting.

In the two days up to the 9th October an inch of rain had fallen, over half the normal rainfall for the month. The whole battlefield was a sea of mud. October 1917 was the wettest October that century.

While Harry’s battalion was in the front line, the main attack on the 12th October was carried out by the Australian and New Zealand troops. Their losses were enormous. They had little success. The casualties experienced by the 9th battalion York & Lancaster Regiment must have been incidental to the main attack, drawing significant casualties from the fighting resulting from it.

Some quotes from accounts of the battle may help set the scene.

http://www.flanders1917.info/ The New Zealanders account of the battle

"Recovering the New Zealand wounded from the battlefield took two and a half days days even with 3,000 extra men from the Fourth Brigade, artillery and other units plus a battalion from the British 49th Division. The conditions were horrendous and six men were needed to carry each stretcher because of the mud and water. The Germans suffered the same problems and an informal truce for stretcher-bearers came into force, although anyone without a stretcher was fired on. By the evening of October 14 there simply was no one left alive on the battlefield."

Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig’s account of the battle paints a sorry picture of brave men engaged in a totally futile task.

“They advanced every time with absolute confidence in their power to overcome the enemy, even though they had sometimes to struggle through mud up to their waists to reach him. So long as they could reach him they did overcome him, but physical exhaustion placed narrow limits on the depth to which each advance could be pushed, and compelled long pauses between the advances.”

Throughout the duration of the war Haig never once visited the front line to see, first-hand, what his troops endured. (My tame History teacher informs me)


There has been a rash of comments that were simply used to put an advertising URL on the blog.

I've, sadly, resorted to moderating comments. Any comments containing a URL will be rejected.

Letter to Jack October 27th

Dear Jack,

I was very pleased to have another letter from you I have not had many lately. I have not heard from Kate yet will you send me her address at once I think some of her letters must have got lost. We have had a busy time in the trenches since seventeenth of September till just now. We are out for a rest we have earned it we were in the trenches five Sundays out of six so you can tell, we want another draft now there is not many left now. I think there is more military medals in our company than any other in france. No 1 &2 in our gun team has got one so you see we are proud. The General said we can’t all get them if we earn them but I’m alright and I don’t bother about one. There is above twenty in our company now with them, as long as I am alright I don’t care. I was going up to the trenches last month and on the road got talking to an artillery man. It come to his home was in Oxford. he said there was some East Oxford lads with him. I told him my name but he did not know me as he went to school at Henley. He gave me a packet of chocolate a package of cigs of box of matches and two candles not a bad sort what you think. The pillbox we took over was one the Australians had taken a day or two before. The Germans would not come out so they burnt them out it was in a state. We have been on the range today firing. I did not do at all bad only I am not much good at rapid firing but at 300 yards application, fires you like, plenty of time I got 19 points out of 20 4 bulls and one inner. I was very pleased to hear that you are thinking of getting married. I should not wait a day. I should not like to be single again and I think that you will say the same let me know as soon as possible. They tell me Willie likes his mug and is very pleased with it. I got your packet alright. I should be glad when the war is over so that I can come and see you. Don’t forget Kate’s address when you write and write soon yourself
with best love from

This letter was undated. However, reference to the Battalion's War Diary makes it possible to date it with some confidence to 27th October - the day on the rifle range.

3 days in the Front Line, Heavy Casualties

The Batallion War Diary merely records the casualties for the three days from the 11th -14 October 1917. There is absolutely no account of any action or of the events of those days.

The casualties were heavy. Around 10%of the notional strength were killed or wounded - over 4 times the losses of the 30th September - 1st October when the War Diary gave a relatively detailed account of the action.

I will try to research further the background to these three days - any help would be appreciated.

This was part of the infamous Passchendaele offensive when the troops suffered great losses for minimal gain.

Radio 4 article

Sunday 7th October, Radio 4 programme, "Broadcasting House" presented an article about the blog. That day it had around 8,000 hits.

Note in the heat of the live broadcast, I exaggerated the amount of explosives set off at messines ridge. Half a million Kg of explosives were used rather than the very optimistic (pessimistic) "half a million tonnes I mentioned. (Only 1,000 times as much!)

Click here to hear the broadcast.

I've had a couple of comments from potential school users. I'd love to comment/help but can't reply to contributors who haven't registered with an email address. My direct email address is bl@pool.cornwall.sch.uk (No junk mail, please)

October 9th 1917

An incorrectly dated letter was posted her. I have moved the letter to the correct posting date, 28th October. Apologies for any confusion.

Letters to Jack, and to Kate,October 3rd 1917

3rd October 1917

Dear Jack

Just a line to let you know I’m going on all right. In my last letter I told you we was waiting for the lads coming out well that night I had to go up the line to help them out with the guns. we brought them part way in the lumber waggons on the way we had a smash a motor lorry ran into us smashed the wheels of the lumber wagon and tipped us all out but we only got a few bumps which we are used to. Three days after, we were called up the line again of course I went this time. We had to go to the front line were it was on the Menin Road no doubt you have heard about it. We were there for three days it was awful the shelling day and night. We relieved the KOYLI about 10 o’clock and what do you think Fritz came over about 5 o’clock next morning we had an exciting time for about one hour and a half I can tell you. but we beat him off he never got in our trenches he was about two hundred strong it was a picked storming party so the prisoners say that captured, they brought liquid fire with them and bombs and all sorts but not many got back we had twenty casuals and the captain got killed a jolly good fellow too. I was pleased to get out of it but did not feel nervous when I saw them coming over. No 1 in our section was on the gun and we used our rifles. Our Coy as to go before the general for the good work we have done. We have just been given a long trousers again as we have had had Short ones all summer. I hope you are going on alright as was pleased to hear you are keeping in good health, write again as soon as possible. I am always ready for a letter. I think the mug will be very nice for Willie

With best love


Oct 3rd

Dear Kate,

Just a line to let you know I’m going on alright. We had an exciting time and this time up the line. We had only been in about six hours when fritz’s came over to us. We had an hour and a half of it but we beat them back and they lost a good many men too not many got back I can tell you. We lost #### (pencilled out –censored?) which I’m sorry to say and about #### wounded. I think the mug will be all right for Willie which Jack is getting for him. If you send me anything it will come in very nice the chocolate is very good I should like a bit of cake, if you could afford it really gets crushed so if it is not packed careful. Write as soon as possible. I hope you’ll get on alright at your fresh place

with best love

from Harry

These letters are remarkably parallel to the account in the battalion's war diary for the 30th September / 1st October. Click to link to the War Diary

Scroll down to find the entry for 30th September

1st October - more front line action for Harry

The battalion war Diary for today, 1st October 1917 makes for more chilling reading.

The trenches were bombarded at 5 a.m. and again at 12.30 p.m. All day aeroplanes fired on the trenches and at 6.30 p.m. another bombardment started. At 7 p.m. an enemy attack was imminent, prevented by an artillery barrage. "After this, the night was quiet."

Follow the link to the war diary to read the whole account of the last two days.

9th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment War Diary

Dawn attack, Sunday morning

Harry's company was in the front line trench. The Battalion War Diary records with chilling formality a dawn attack by the enemy.

Harry was a member of the Lewis Gun section, which gets a mention in the diary.

I'm sure that the account is exciting but I can feel nothing but fear in my stomach as I think of Harry facing the assault.

If you're following the blog, it's well worth taking the link to the Battalion's War Diary to read the official account of today's events.

We now just need to wait to see if Harry survives to give his account.

The Front Line

It can be seen from the Battalion's War Diary that today, 29th September 1917, Harry's platoon moves to the front line, relieving the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, completing the move at about 10 P.M.

Even after reading the letters many times and working on this material for months, I get an involuntary shiver when I think of Harry in these situations. I hope that the reader can share a little of this.

Letters resume - Harry wounded.

To get an idea of Harry's situation in the grand scheme of things, it is worth following the link to the Battalion's War Diary.

As you can read in today's letter, Harry is in C Company. Their movements are mentioned from time to time in the Diary. It may help to put Harry's letters into context if the dates are considered.

September 23rd 1917.

Dear Jack

I have received your letter and I got the cigs alright. You did not mention about the mug you had got for Willie it will be very nice. I will tell Ethel he has to use it. The raid you read about in the papers was made by our Battalion. B Coy went over and we, no 12 platoon C. Coy stood to. It was made to get a prisoner or two, to get information which they did, they lost one man and two wounded, it happened about five one morning. I got a slight wound in the face with shrapnel but not much it is alright now, I did not go to the doctor. There as been a big advance this last day or two but I have been left out. We get left out in turns.we are expecting our Coy out tonight. We have some rough times out here but I think the Germans have it rougher. We have to make the best of it. I should be glad when it is all over. John Bull watched us march past just over a week ago on our way to the trenches. I think we were the best batt in the Brigade, well in the division. I am pleased you’re keeping well and that they are keeping well at home. The rations have been very low lately, four and five to a loaf and small loaves too, that is the days bread. Write back as soon as possible, I’m always pleased to get a letter from you. Kate keeps sending me a small parcels which come in very nice, I hope she gets on alright at her fresh situation. I’m just going to write to Ethel.

With best love

from Harry.

Battle Of Menin Road, 20th September 1917

This was a major offensive in the 3rd battle of Ypres. The attack started at 5.40 A.M. Harry's battalion was in the second wave of troops supporting the attack. The careful planning of General Plumer, that had ensured success at Messines Ridge two months earlier, delivered some initial success this time.

This is now part of the dreadful Passchendaele experience - stalemate in the Flanders mud costing many, many thousands of lives.

The card was included in the letters. I don't know who Harry sent it to. It commemorates Harry's Division's action last Thursday. I can find a record of the artist, J.V. Breffit, not as an artist, but as an army officer. If any one knows any more, please add a comment.

Harry's letters follow very shortly.


More information has been found on little Connie, Kate's daughter.

Connie was afflicted with "Spastic Diplegia". I understand that this is now known as cerebral palsy affecting limbs on both sides. This explains the comments about Connie walking and her starting school being noteworthy.

Two years before the Harry went away to war, they lost their first child, Arthur in infancy. A year after that, Willie was born. All this time Harry and Ethel were looking after this disabled little girl.

Advance notice; Harry's letters resume next week.

Harry's 30th Birthday

Harry's birthday has shifted a little. I was always told that he was born in 1888. However, anyone carefully following the Blog, will have noticed that the year of his birth changed to 1887.

I recently discovered the record of his birth registration indicated as September 1887 and have just received a copy of Harry's birth certificate with date of birth recorded as 28th August 1887, registered, of course in September.

In the same package I received the birth certificate of Willie's older brother Arthur, Harry's other son, born 1914, died in infancy.

This means that this card would have been sent to Harry a couple of weeks ago (Blog calender).

One can only imagine how Harry would have treasured this.

I have no further information about it.

Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Letter from Jack to Kate June 1917 - with scan

I have found another letter that is, I am afraid out of time order. It was filed with other material and I didn’t recognise its significance. This letter is from Harry’s brother, Jack to sister Kate. Jack was, at the time, an Anglican Clergyman in Hull in the North of England. Kate was a nurse in London. I have certificates in midwifery and “hygiene” that could well have been a result of the exams mentioned.

It was actually written on the 7th June 1917, the day of the battle of Messines Ridge. I can't help making a link from this peaceful clergyman writing a letter in Hull about his brother, this soldier enduring terrific horrors as that day progesses.

The letter from Harry that Jack refers to is probably the letter of 2nd June.

20 Ryde St
7th June 1917
Dear Kate

Just a line to let you know that I’ve heard from Harry this morning. He would very much like to hear from you. His address is
Pte H. Lamin
9th Batt
York & Lancashire Regiment
C Company
12th Platoon
B.E.F. France

He is in very good health I am thankful to say.

I hope you will get on all right with your exam. Have you seen the question papers of former years and do you know off by heart the act of parliament you ought to. I see you had another air raid not very far from London. Did you hear anything of it? I am in the best of health although very hard worked. Mr Thomas is very interested in his work in France.
With lots of love
J.E. Lamin

Click on the letter for an enlarged view.
Endsleigh Financial can help with UK mortgages

Please be patient

There is a gap in the letters at the moment which I can't explain. Maybe there was a small bundle that was lost. I just don't know. Maybe Harry had a leave during this time and so didn't write letters. All I can do in this gap is to keep you up to date with his Unit's War Diary. We can see from that that Harry is not seeing too much action.

If you're new to blogs, this may be quite difficult to follow sensibly. Unlike a standard diary, blogs work in reverse. The older material is at the bottom, the newest stuff is at the top.

More on the War Diaries

I have decide that, in parallel with the blog, I'll keep the War Diaries of the 9th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment up to date.

There is, virtually, an entry every day so that the reader can get an overview of what was happening to the whole Battalion. This should complement Harry's letters extremely well. (They are going to restart very shortly).

Today, I have put on the entry for 27th August 1917 when they remained at "Chateau Segard". Up to know I haven't found any modern record of the Chateau. Can anyone help? It is mentioned in several WW1 documents and appears to be a training centre of sorts. Maybe it was destroyed in that war.

(Update - I have discovered that Chateau Segard is no more. The location is now a farm. All that remains of the Chateau is two pillars beside the road.)

The link to the war diaries is at the top left of this blog.

War Diaries August 1917

I am almost apologising for not having letters to post. (Almost but not quite!)

The reality is, of course, that I can't publish letters that I don't possess or don't exist.

I have transcribed the War Diary of Harry's Battalion. It can be seen that, for the month of August 1917, the 9th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment saw little action. They spent their time in various camps in the Ypres (Ieper) area. Click here to see the War Diary transcription.

Wonderful comments from readers. 20th August

I've collected together the generous comments that readers have made about the blog and the letters. Click here to read them.

Readers Comments - Updated Version

All about Connie

Connie was the illegitimate daughter of Kate, Harry's sister. She was born in June 1910 in the Nottingham area.

She was brought up by Kate's brother Harry and his wife Ethel. That Harry is the subject of the blog.

I believe the picture on the left is Connie. It was the front of a postcard sent to Kate in December 1913 by her sister Agnes. The cryptic note on the back is interesting.

A second picture, a little older, has Willie's distinctive handwriting on the back.

Willie has said that Connie was "a cripple". I have no further information on this.

Connie died on 21st December 1929 and was buried on Christmas Eve. She died from complications resulting from her cerebral palsy.

Her grave, which she shares with her

9th August 1917, Card to Connie

This flash of colour was tucked in the grey, drab bundle of letters. It's difficult to tell when it was sent as there's no date or postmark. It must have been included with one of the letters and the content suggests that it must have been sent about this time. I admit to taking a liberty by implying the precise date.The little card was inserted in behind the flap in the muslin front.

Connie would be about 8 when it was written. Willie would have been approaching 18 months. Connie was being brought up as Willie's big sister.

I am now convinced that Connie was Kate's illgitimate daughter. Further evidence came to light which I'll post in the next few days.

The "silk cards" were very popular during the war. Many were sent home from the front. Most were hand embroidered by refugees and displaced persons.

"A souvenir from France" is slightly misleading. As far as I can tell, Harry was in Belgium. He never spent any time in France. "Souvenir!" Would he really want to remember this expedition?

Battalion War Diary of the Battle of Messines Ridge


June 7th At 3.10 am (zero hour) our artillery opened up a terrific barrage on the Hun front line & simultaneously the mines under Hill 60 and the CATERPILLAR were blown. At zero +1 (minute) the first wave consisting of B Coy on the left & A Coy on the right went over, and were followed by D Coy (moppers up) & C Coy (Harry's Company) in support at short intervals. The attack progressed very favourably and by zero + 30 the Bn had reached its objective and began consolidating. Very few casualties were sustained in the actual attack.

At zero + 3hr 40mins the 8th Bn York & Lancaster Bn & the 8th Bn KOYLI on the right and left respectively, went over from our objective and reached the final objective of the Brigade.

June 9th The Bn remained in its objectives until the evening of the 9th. During this period the Bn underwent heavy shelling & sustained many casualties. B Coy also relieved the 8th Bn Y & L in the front line on the morning of the 9th. On the evening of the 9th the Bn was relieved by the 1st N Staffs Bn. The total casualties sustained were officers - killed 4 (including the C.O.) wounded 6. O.Rs - Killed 39, wounded 211. Died of wounds 9. Missing 18.

Night of 9th/10th On relief the Bn moved by motor lorry from KRUISTRAAT to SCOTTISH LINES. Capt. D Lewis took over temp command of Bn at midday on June 7th* from Lt Col Bowses Wilson, killed in action 7.6.17. Coys at O.C Coys disposal for cleaning up and re-organisation
* Added in very small writing as a superscript.

This account should be read alongside Harry's two letters of 11th June. He does mention the loss of the C.O but, amazingly, neither letter mentions the explosion of the mines. If the explosion could have been heard in London & Dublin, it must have been quite significant a few hundred yards away!

War Diaries of Harry's Battalion August 6th

I've just discovered and downloaded the "War Diaries" of the 9th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment, Harry's Unit. These astonishing documents are available online from the Public Records Office, Kew website.

They give a day-by-day account of the activities of the battalion. I now have to decide how to deal with the information. It is fascinating to put the "official" account against Harry's letters. In the future, I'll publish the entry in the battalion's war Diary alongside the letters but I'm left with the problem of dealing with the retrospective material.

PLAN I'll publish several days worth each day, starting with the beginning of June. I'll insert a second copy in the correct chronological place in the blog. Then, as time goes on, I'll withdraw the bits that are in the wrong time slot.

PLEASE. Use the comments to help me decide if I'm doing the right thing. I have collated comments into one post that should be available in the next week or so. If you wish to have a comment included, all you have to do is write it.

1st Extract

War Diary 9th Bn York and Lancs. Regt.

June 1st Bn was relieved in the early morning in the BUND by the 12th D.L.I. There were two casualties on the way to camp owing to enemy shelling back areas with gas shells. The Bn arrived in P camp at 3.30 am, but moved in the evening to bivouacs at S24 b4.5

June 2nd to June 5th Bn at S24 b4.5 Coys were inspected by the C.O. and thorough organisation of coys for the for the coming offensive was carried out.
On the evening of the 5th the Bn moved via Vlamertinge, Hruistraat and the N end of BUND to the following dispositions. Bn H.Q. HALFWAY HO. A, B & C Coys WELLINGTON CRESCENT
and D Coy MAPLE TR.

The sketch map from 1915, although out of date, shows the location of Halfway House and Maple Copse. (Maple TR Above?) Click on the map for an enlarged view.

June 6th On the evening of the 6th Bn moved to assembly positions previous to the attack. Bn front being from N end of CANADA St to dead end of front line. There were no casualties whilst the Bn was assembling.

The battalion is nominally around 1000 men, split into 4 Companys. Harry was in "C" Company.

Passchendaele 31st July 1917

After the success of Messines, the troops were in the "hold" phase of the "bite and hold" strategy. From research, there is a strong opinion that it would have been better to continue with the momentum from that first attack and to press on while the Germans were in disarray, with their morale badly dented.

However, that was not the strategy adopted. Consequently, in the two week pause, the Germans had an opportunity to establish new defensive positions.

On 31st July, a new offensive was started with objective being the small village of Passchendaele. Harry would have been involved in this dreadful phase of the war.

The weather was not kind. The big problem was mud. The picture included here was taken on 1st August 1917, shows a stretcher party struggling through the mud.

Extract from the London Times 1st August 1917 "LONDON, Both British and French troops gained further ground today along their new front in Belgium, in spite of the heavy rain, which, falling since early yesterday afternoon, has turned the battlefield into a sea of mud and rendered major operations impossible."

In an earlier letter, Harry mentions going for a bath "two weeks ago".

"I died in Hell
(they called it Passchendaele); my wound was slight
and I was hobbling back; and then a shell
burst slick upon the duckboards; so I fell
into the bottomless mud, and lost the light"
Siegfried Sassoon

Exciting new material; 28th July

I have just unearthed a tray of material that I wasn't aware existed. Most of it was from my mother's side of the family but, mixed in were several items that must have come from Ethel's belongings.

The most exciting find was this picture of Harry when he was in the army.

I can only think that the photograph was taken at the training camp but if any expert out there would like to correct me (or even confirm that view) I would be most grateful.

Harry is on the front row, extreme right. The photograph has had a tough journey. I've tried to make the best of it but decided to post it now rather than waiting for an "ideal" version.

I now have version that is "tidied up". Many thanks to John Murray.


1. The letters in the stained glass - could be "Rugeley".
2. The chap with a wrist watch on the front row. Very rare in 1917.
3. Harry's belt is upside down!

I'm also collating all the comments into one place. They have been, without exception, very pleasant, kind and encouraging.

27th July -Messines Ridge letter scans

For new users of blogs, at the risk of stating the obvious, everything is in the reverse order from that of a "normal" journal or diary.

If you want to pick up Harry's story and follow it properly, it may make sense to start with the first archive, July 2006 and to work forwards to August 2007. (Actually August 1917). (To make things even more complicated, each archive is also in reverse order - the latest material appears first!)

Today I upload scans of the letter written a few days after the main assault at Messines Ridge.

This letter to Harry's brother Jack was written on June 11th. The main assault that was described in the letter took place on the 7th June but the battle continued until 14th.

Click on the letters for an enlarged view.

Note that the last page is on a completely different type of paper!

22nd July; More on Messines Ridge

I need to let the reader know that we have a gap in the letters. I don't think that Harry didn't write any, I suspect that a small bundle was lost or removed. I know that this is slightly against the spirit of the blog, but the family at home would probably have had the comfort of letters.

I have, thanks to a helpful reader, found the location of Harry's Unit for this battle. It would appear that Harry had achieved objectives by the 11th, when he wrote two letters.

Click on the map for an enlarged view.

Harry was part of the 23rd Division. Two large mines, shown as small circles on the map, were detonated just ahead of Harry on the morning of 7th June. Their objective was likely to be "Hill 60" or "Mount Sorell".

As the explosions took place at 0310, the cameras of the day were almost certainly incapable of recording the event. However, I have included a link to a movie of a similar mine exploded a year earlier before the Somme Offensive. Click here

Five live Interview Friday 13th July

BBC Five Live broadcast an interview on their Drive Time programme last Friday.

Click to Listen

Letter to Kate, 14th July 1917

July 14/1917

Dear Kate

I have received your parcel it came in very nice. we were just getting ready to move when I got it, we went in lorries so I did not have to carry it far I can tell you there was not much left as me and my pals were short and we could not get anything where we landed. It is a country place a few miles behind the firing line. The weather is lovely, we are all enjoying the ride. I’m in good health but we have had a rough time this last week or two going on working parties at night digging trenches and one thing and another. One night we were between our lines and the Germans but we all came out alright. It’s a bit rough but it might be worse. My address is the same. Will write again soon. Glad to hear they are all right at home.

Yours truly


These parcel are just right plenty big enough.

6th July 1917, Letter to Kate

July 6 1917

Dear Kate

I have received your letter was very pleased with it. I have received some nice letters from Jack he seems in very good health only very busy. Letters are very nice out here. Don’t send any cigs we get plenty out here you could send chocolate or biscuits anything to eat. envelopes about half a dozen. Ethel tells me Willie gets a rum chap always running away and getting into things. Write back as soon as you receive this letter. Address 32507, 9th Batt York and Lancs C company L. G. Section 12 Platoon BEF France. I think this is all just now will write again soon

yours truly


Five Live Broadcast

BBC's Radio FiveLive boadcast an interview to update listeners on Harry's progress to date.

Click to hear the broadcast

Scans of Early letters

The first letter from Rugeley Camp to sister Kate. I've had several requests to include scans of the letters. In "quiet" periods, I'll upload them. This one was written in the relative comfort of the training camp.

Jack, Harry's brother.

25th June


I have just realised that we haven’t introduced Jack, Harry’s brother, the recipient of around half the letters.

John Ernest (Jack) Lamin was born in 1870 to Henry Lamin.. He was considerably older than Harry.

By the 1901 census he was an elementary schoolmaster living in Oxford. Harry is recorded as staying with him. Oxford is mentioned in quite a few of the letters so Harry must have stayed there for a while.

In 1917 John was a clergyman living in Newland, Hull Yorkshire.

He eventually became a canon (an honourary title in the Anglican Church, given to senior, well respected members of the clergy) attached to the Cathedral at York.

Willie knew John quite well and always referred to him in a respectful manner. I haven't yet established details of the latter part of his life.

Link to readings of letters

15th June 1917

The following audio files are now available .

BBC "Five Live" interview with Harry's grandson.
BBC World Service broadcast about the Blog
Harry's Grandson reading a letter to brother Jack after Messines Ridge

Harry's Grandson reading a letter to sister Kate after MessinesRidge

There is an RSS feed on the blog, double-click the orange RSS icon on the IE toolbar to subscribe. On Firefox, click the RSS icon on the address bar.

Harry's letters about Battle of Messines Ridge

June 11th /1917

…. Dear Jack
I was very pleased to hear from you and that you are going on all right I have been to the place you mentioned in your letter we went there for our bath about a fortnight ago. The part of the line and we are in is straight forward so you will know where I am. We have had another terrible time this week the men here say it was worst than the Somme advance last July. We lost a lot of men but we got where we were asked to take. It was awful I am alright got buried and knocked about but quite well now and hope to remain so. We were praised by the general and all, everybody said we had done well, quite a success. I will tell you more when I see you. Mention the name of the place you think I am in and I will tell you whether you are right but I think you will know one of the worst fronts on the line but I think we are having a change of place. When you receive this letter write back and let me know all news you can. It is a rum job waiting for the time to come to go over the top without any rum too. The C.O. got killed and our captain, marvellous how we escaped. The biggest part of our company are scotch man from the Scottish Borderers. I can’t tell what they say they are not like Yorkshire men and we were the fifth wave over. I am glad they are alright at home and getting on well. The little book you sent is very nice it will come in useful I will read it. Glad you have wrote to Kate. My address is the same Y & L. I will write againAnd soon and let you know how I am getting on.

With best love from Harry

could you send me a small tin of salts or lemon something to put to water only a small tin, anything that will not take up much room.

June 11th /1917

Received 21.6.17

Dear Kate

I was very pleased to receive your packet everything came in a very useful. I was very pleased to hear you are going on all right did you receive my letter. We have had some very rough times up here lately especially the last time we were in the trenches you see we had to go over the top. its a rotten time waiting for the order. we had to go over at three in the morning. the bombardment was awful lucky to get out but I’m very pleased to say I am alright and hope to remain so. There was a parcel waiting for me from Ethel and Annie when I came out, it was nice to have some cake and tea. we never had anything but water for about a week, biscuits and bully a bit of Jam but never mind I got over it. I am very pleased Connie is going to school I do hope she gets on alright-I think they all keep well at home. The weather here is very hot I wish it was a bit cooler. Do not be long before you write. My address is 32507 ninth York and Lancs Batt C Company L. G. section B.E.F. France. There is nobody in my company from our way not that I know of you see a mix them up now there is a lot of scotch men with us you can hardly tell what they say. I have been a with the Lewis gunners the last month but I don’t know for how long. It was only three of us came back out of our section after the last fight. I think this is all just now, I will write again soon and tell you more.
With love from

9th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment

War Diary entries for the Battle of Messsines Ridge

June 7th At 3.10 am (zero hour) our artillery opened up a terrific barrage on the Hun front line & simultaneously the mines under Hill 60 and the CATERPILLAR were blown. At zero +1 (minute) the first wave consisting of B Coy on the left & A Coy on the right went over, and were followed by D Coy (moppers up) & C Coy (Harry's Company) in support at short intervals. The attack progressed very favourably and by zero + 30 the Bn had reached its objective and began consolidating. Very few casualties were sustained in the actual attack. At zero + 3hr 40mins the 8th Bn York & Lancaster Bn & the 8th Bn KOYLI on the right and left respectively, went over from our objective and reached the final objective of the Brigade.

June 9th The Bn remained in its objectives until the evening of the 9th. During this period the Bn underwent heavy shelling & sustained many casualties. B Coy also relieved the 8th Bn Y & L in the front line on the morning of the 9th. On the evening of the 9th the Bn was relieved by the 1st N Staffs Bn. The total casualties sustained were officers - killed 4 (including the C.O.) wounded 6. O.Rs - Killed 39, wounded 211. Died of wounds 9. Missing 18. **

Night of 9th/10th June On relief the Bn moved by motor lorry from KRUISTRAAT to SCOTTISH LINES. Capt. D Lewis took over temp command of Bn at midday on June 7th* from Lt Col Bowes-Wilson, killed in action 7.6.17. Coys at O.C Coys disposal for cleaning up and re-organisation

* Added in very small writing as a superscript.

The very last line took a bit of understanding. To decipher; "Companies are to do whatever their Company Commander feels suitable to clean up and to sort out the organisation".

I would suppose that the gaps due to casualties needed to be sorted.

**To understand the scale of casualties, the battalion would consist of around 1000 men. Over a quarter were killed or wounded in this "successful" attack.

Battle of Messines Ridge

June 7th 1917 was a significant day for Harry.

For the last 18 days and nights there has been continuous heavy bombardment of the German Lines.

At 0250 the bombardment stopped and Harry and his colleagues were ordered to lie down.

A 0310 the largest man-made explosion to date blew apart the German front lines at Messines Ridge. 450 tonnes of high explosive, in 19 mines, was detonated. The explosion was heard in London and Dublin.

"Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography."

Remark by General Plumer to his staff the evening before the attack

An account of the battle can be found on the FirstWorldWar.com website, on Wikipedia or on many other sources.

We need to wait for any news of Harry, to determine his fate.

At the front

Two letters written on the same day with a slightly different emphasis.

June 2/6/1917

Dear Jack

Very pleased to receive a letter from you and to hear you are going on all right. We have had a very rough time lately the Germans were only about 40yds away from us, we had a very trying time for the first, but I dont care so long that I keep alright. It will be a good job when the war is over. Ethel tells me they are alright at home but Willie as got a cough. Hope will soon be better. I hear Connie has started school and that she likes it. I hope that she gets on alright. I have not received a letter from Kate yet but expect one any time. this is my address 32507 9th Batt York and Lancs, C Company, 11 platoon in B.E.F. France. I think I am going in for a Lewis Gunner. (Internet link) I dont know yet I will let you know next time I write we are having a bit of a practice this last day or two we have been out of the trenches. We get plenty of tobacco but little bread out here. Write to me when you receive this letter and let me know all you can. I am glad to receive a letter.

With Best Love

from Harry

2nd June 1917

Dear Kate,

I received your letter. I am pleased to hear you are going on alright they all seem to be getting on all right at home which is something to be thankful for. The weather here is lovely and we have had to fine time this last fortnight. We are still out of the trenches but we might go back anytime. Jack has wrote me telling me he has had to leave his lodging and go to the vicarage – I hope he gets on all right. Write soon and let me know how you are getting on. Jack has sent me some sardines and chicken paste which is all right here and it works the bread and butter down. I am glad Connie is going on alright at school I don’t think it will do her any harm. They tell me Willie and Connie keep very good friends which I am glad to hear.

With best

love from


Additional letter to Jack

This is a letter that was included in the bundle of Harry's letters. As it is contemporaneous with Harry's and, clearly, has some link, I have included it. I believe that the writer was killed almost a year later.

No 11/1141, No 4 platoon

A Coy, B.E.F. France

May 30th 1917

Dear Sir,

Youre kind and welcome letter dated May 22 to hand and many thanks for your interest in me. It certainly set me thinking at first until I read further into it and then it became quite clear how you got in touch with me. I am trying to carry out my part in the contract and hope that I may be successful. Your very nice and cheering booklet of which I have had very similar copy I have passed on to a young friend private W. H. Adams who is in the same platoon and company as I am and he is very much taken up with it. He was delighted with it. I have had quite a considerable number of letters and textbooks and so on from the headquarters YMCA and must say here how the work of the above is appreciated by the boys in France. Am very pleased to hear that my mother was very well, also I sincerely hope that you keep in the best of health as I am at the present. I will now draw these few lines to a close hoping that this war will soon be over and all the boys get back to blighty myself to Newland and settled down at our respective peaceful occupations. so again thanking you for your kind wishes.

I remain

yours sincerely

H. Bentley

"Newland" is, I believe, in Hull, Yorkshire. I think that this could well be the author of this letter. Any confirmation? I believe that Jack was attached to the Anglican Church there. Has anyone any record of John Lamin in Newland 1917.

The Arcadian

The Arcadian was a Royal Mail ship that was employed as a troopship and ammunition carrier. She was torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean 15th April 1917 by a German submarine. 601 troops were on board and 75 of those perished.

Harry mentioned it in his letter to Jack on 13th May. It is interesting to consider how the information about it may have got to him.

Letter to sister Kate

13th May, 1917
Dear Kate

Sorry I have not written to you for such a long time no doubt you’re being wondering how I am getting on. I should have wrote to you only have been so busy always something to do never any time to spare. I am in the best of health at present the weather here is very hot. We had a good voyage across the channel it was very calm. I think we are going further up the line tomorrow so can’t send you my proper address. I shall send it on to Ethel as soon as I get it so you can write for it. I have had some are moving about what bit I have been in the army. First I was attached the York’s then the South Staffords and West Yorks now I think I am settled in the ninth Batt York & Lancaster so you see I have had some moves. Write as soon as you get my address and let me know how you are getting on. I wrote to Jack and he seems to be getting on alright. I will write again as soon as I can.

With Best Love
from Harry

Arrival in France.

(No day included in the date but possibly written on Sunday 13th along with the letter to Kate)

May 1917

Dear Jack

Just a line to let you know I am alright and that I have landed in France. The weather here has been very hot. Not at all a bad sort of place. There is a pretty town about two miles away on the coast but it is out of bounds. This is my address we have got to put it in the middle of our letter. I don’t know why. 33502 Pt Lamin West York Reg number lines 33rd IBDAPO section 17 BEF France. No doubt you have read about the Arcadian going down. Well the draft to Mesopotamia which I should’ve been on had it not been for my teeth, was on it. I have heard from one that was on it. he was in the same hut as me at Rugely. I think they were about all saved. Write as soon as you get this letter as I should be going up the line of next week and perhaps get to a different regiment so write

yours truly


Training Camp 1917

As you may have realised, there were no other letters from the training camp that were preserved.

It sounds, from the first letter, that Harry had just arrived at Rugeley camp and so we could work out roughly how long the training lasted at that time.

In 1914, at the start of the war, training was planned to take around eight months for an infantryman like Harry. By the spring of 1917, this had been reduced significantly. I can't find any specific evidence to determine the length of training, but I do know that Harry was in France by mid-May. Mid-February to mid-May is only 3 months.

We must realise that the previous summer of 1916 saw the terrible battle of the Somme where tens of thousands of men were slaughtered before breakfast. The trenches needed replenishing with men and the obvious solution was to reduce the training period. I suppose there was no real problem as no amount of training could prepare those young men for what was to follow.

"Dripping" in the last post, refers to the fat that was left after meat was cooked. Before the days of cholesteral and sodium, "bread and dripping" was a common dish in the industrial midlands of England. I can remember enjoying it in the 1950s. The fat from the Sunday joint was spread onto bread. Liberal amounts of salt was added and, that was it. Full of flavour, cheap and quite nutritious. Not too healthy.

Travel to the training Camp

It's quite likely that Harry would have travelled by train from Ilkeston to the camp at Rugeley. There were, in 1917, very few alternatives. The problem in determining a route is the complexity of the railway system at the time.

In 1917 there was a plethora of small railway companies servicing the highly industrialised area around Nottingham and Derby. In Ilkeston there were three railway stations. (There are none now) One of the stations, Ilkeston North, was about two hundred metres from Harry's home in Mill Street. At Rugeley there were two stations, both of which are still operating.

My railway expert can't come up with any conclusive evidence to determine the route Harry would have taken so I will not attempt to guess. I can only imagine that the train would fill up as it approached its destination until it arrived at Rugeley full of new recruits.

This was almost certainly taken at the training camp at Rugeley. Note that Harry's belt is upside down! That wouldn't have happened after training!

Harry's first letter on this Blog. Written to his elder sister Catherine.

M Coy
15 Hut
10th Training Reserves
February 7th 1917

Dear Kate

I was very pleased to receive your letter. The weather here is very cold and we don’t get much fire. We have been vaccinated this week well last Monday but we have to do all drills just the same. Ethel says Annie’s cold is much better. I can’t get a shut of mine but I am lucky to keep as well as I do. We have four blankets a piece and a bag of straw about 6in. from the floor on three planks to lie on. There are 29 in our hut and there only suppose to have twenty. I think it will be another five or six weeks before I get a pass I am ready for one anytime. Ethel says Connie and Willie are alright he will soon be a year old now and have two letters from Jack he seems to be getting on all right. We don’t get too much to eat, bread and jam dripping we have to do the cleaning in turns but the cooking is done at the cookhouse. I have not got any fatter yet I don’t suppose I shall do

Will write soon

With Love

from Harry

Harry's war starts here.

Harry has received his call up to the army. He has to travel from Ilkeston in Derbyshire (Between Nottingham and Derby) to Rugeley army camp in Staffordshire. Travel could well have been by train. A railway expert is currently researching the most likely route that was available in 1917.

The first letter is dated from the postmark as 7th February 1917. As promised, the letter from the training camp will be published on the evening of Wednesday 7th February 2007 - Exactly 90 years after it was written. (7th February 1917 was also a Wednesday, so the days of the week will coincide.)