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11 October 1915 Rev Whincup wrote to the parents of L Cpl Conder In it he said that he had “buried L Cpl Conder in a newly made little cemetery a short distance behind the firing line, where rest the bodies of many other fine British soldiers. “It was dangerous work taking the funeral service, for the German bullets were flying all over the place. Still I am glad to have been able to perform the last sad ceremony. “L Cpl Conder was exceedingly popular amongst his comrades and was very highly respected. His death is deeply regretted in his battalion.”
The families of soldiers killed in WW1 would often receive letters of consolation from their loved-one’s officers, colleagues and the chaplain. Many of these letters, not surprisingly, followed a pattern - praising the man’s character and his courage, and assuring the family that he had died quickly and relatively free of pain. This must have been a difficult task, especially for someone like Rev Whincup who would have been aware that his letters would probably be passed on to the local paper for publication. Yet, as these examples show, he seems to have managed to personalise his letters and to have avoided them sounding artificial or false.
It is my sad duty to inform you…
17 September 1915 Shipley Times & Express published a letter Rev Whincup had sent to the widow of George Parker (right) Dear Mrs Parker, You will have already heard of the sad death of your husband at the Front. He was killed last Sunday afternoon (5 September) and I took the funeral at 9.30 p.m. the same night. Everything was done as reverently as possible. It was very dark, but the bright “star lights” which the Germans are continually sending up at night lighted up the way for us.
We buried his body a short distance from the trenches. A newly-made little cemetery happens to be not far from the firing line and it is there that we laid his body. We buried your husband alongside another comrade who had fallen the same day – Pte H Stringer of Bradford. Jovial As far as I can gather, your husband was a general favourite with his comrades and he seems to have been a fearless and brave soldier. He is particularly missed by his comrades. They speak of him as a
jovial, happy-hearted companion who did a great deal at times in keep up their spirits and who evidently refused to be discouraged. I sympathise with you very deeply in your sorrow and if I can be of any service to you in your affliction I shall be only too glad to do all I can in this respect. Seeing that your husband was a Shipley man I am pleased that I was able to perform the last sad ceremony. It was only just before the funeral began that the burying party told me who the two dead men really were. Your grief will, no doubt, be great but I hope that it will be somewhat
lightened by the memory of the heroic manner in which your gallant husband has done his duty on behalf of the King and country and for the defence of those near and dear to him. Questions When I come back to Windhill, if God’s will, I shall hope to be able to personally call upon you and to answer any questions you may care to ask me regarding the burial of your husband. A cross with suitable inscription has been erected over the grave. Yours very truly R Whincup Chaplain of West Yorks Regt.
In July 1916, Rev Whincup wrote to the family of Robert Helliwell, killed in the ‘Big Push’ on the Somme. I hope it will be some consolation to you to know that the regiment to which your son belonged has done magnificently in the recent engagement and that your son nobly took his part in the great enterprise. Your son has died a very honourable death and this is a very great thing to do. I feel intensely for the true welfare of all the gallant Bradford boys out here and am truly sorry for their relatives in the great grief which many of them have to go through. Less than six weeks later, he was writing again to the same family I am sorry to have to write to you again and give you such very sad news. In fact, I scarcely know how
to start but it is best to tell you the truth. Your son, L Cpl Alfred Helliwell was killed last night. It is terribly sad for you and your family because this bereavement follows so closely upon the death of your other son out here only six weeks ago. A trench mortar dropped in the very midst of several men, killing five and wounding several others. I
went up to the trenches this evening and Captain Oddy took me to see the place where your son was killed and showed me the grave which is not very far from the spot where your dear boy fell. I conducted the burial service. I will endeavour to have a cross with a suitable inscription erected over the grave. We shall miss your son very much indeed because he was very well known in the battalion. Personally I saw a great deal of him because he was connected with the headquarters staff and he treated me with ever courtesy and kindness whenever I asked him to do anything for me. I am deeply sorry for you and your family. Your son nobly responded to the call of duty ad he has died fighting on behalf of his country.
Robert and Alfred Helliwell