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Letters from the Front

Letters from the Front

This month’s object on special display in the Cathedral Crypt is a timely reminder of those who fought and died during the First World War.

The letter (pictured above) was written by Second Lieutenant Horatio John Reed ‘Jack’ Rowsell.

In 1913, and at the young age of 18, Jack travelled from Newfoundland in Canada, to the UK, to study at St Augustine’s Missionary College in the city of Canterbury.

The Cathedral Archives hold his college file, which includes letters, an application form to St Augustine’s and references, including one which says: ‘…….he will do special work for the Church’.

War intervened and by June 1916 Jack was serving with the 1/1 Newfoundland Regiment in France.

In a letter written on 27th June 1916, to the Warden of St Augustine’s College, he describes how his regiment had been relieved in the trenches. He talks about the different officer parades and how, after one such parade, he had rushed into Communion, but then ‘felt as if I had rushed too quickly into the presence of God’. Jack goes on to say that they will be going back to the trenches very soon and asks that in the event of his death, the Warden would arrange for his belongings to be sent to his mother in Newfoundland and he explains that he has written to his Rector to arrange a bequest to St Augustine’s College.

A few days after writing this, Jack was back on the front line at Beaumont Hamel, and on the morning of 1st July 1916, his regiment went ‘over the top’. Severely wounded in the attack, he was taken to 2nd Stationary Hospital in Abbeville, where, on 8th July 1916, he died, aged just 21.

There follows another letter to the Warden, this time from Jack’s brother, Captain Reginald Rowsell, informing the Warden of Jack’s death and stating that he himself is recuperating in the London General Hospital in Wandsworth from injuries received in the same action. The letter goes on: ‘… Send his [Jack’s] belongings with any military bag…’ Written on the letter in pencil is this tick list; ‘1 suitcase, 1 small portmanteau, 1 packing case and jacket’; the belongings to be sent home to his mother.

Each day Jack is remembered, along with many others who gave their lives for their country, during the Bell Ceremony at the Cathedral.

If you would like to learn more about Jack’s letters and file here is an article by Chris Pascall from 2014 that delves deeper into this fascinating story.

See here for when the Crypt is open for visiting.

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