John (Jack) Loudon Strain was born on 20th August 1896. He was the son of Dr William Loudon Strain and Dorothy Maud Strain, of Wimbledon Hill.
Jack (or "Jacko" as he was known to many friends) attended Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied medicine.
Westminster School is currently compiling biographies on each of the 224 Old Westminsters that died in the First World War and we understand that Jack’s biography will appear on its website on or before the 100th anniversary of his death. This major and very commendable project can be viewed at http://firstworldwar.westminster.org.uk
Jack was originally attached to 168 Siege Battery (possibly joining in July 1916). He was promoted to Captain in the spring of 1917 when he was appointed 2nd in Command of 214 Siege Battery.
Jack described his promotion in a letter to a Mr Mercer pencilled in May 1917 - 28.5.17
Dear Mr Mercer
I am so sorry I have been so long in writing to thank you for the nice little packet of books but I have had a very hot and strenuous time the last few days.
You will be interested to hear that I have been promoted to Captain and am now 2nd in Command of 214 Siege Bty.
We are very busy here now. I am quite close to my old battery.
I do think those little books are nice and I will try to distribute some of them to fellow officers.
I was thinking about the meeting yesterday afternoon at South Lodge and wished I could have been there especially as there was a good deal of iron flying about at the time here.
I was so sorry to hear that dear old Theo Chapman had gone. He was such a good fellow and it is so terribly sad for his people losing 3.
Of course Hugh Carless’ death was a great shock to me as we were great friends at Westminster.
God has been wonderfully good to me in preserving me and I do wish to thank all of you at home who remember me before the throne and ask that you will pray even more earnestly that I may not be ashamed of my colours.
I don’t know whether I told you that we have had attached to my old battery for about 2 months Archie Cockburn of Eton and New College Oxford who knows you quite well. He is a tophole chap.
Well I must dry up now.
Best wishes for Miss Mercer, yourself and the W.S.M.U
The original letter ( Click to enlarge )
On 31st July 1917 Jack volunteered for the job of Forward Observation Officer for 90 Heavy Artillery Group to support the offensive of the XIX Corps.
Before leaving the Battery he was seen to go to his room where he spent 10 minutes in prayer after which he left “in great spirits”.
Alongside 2nd Lt Samuel Linden (an Irish Presbyterian minister from Londonderry) and signaller Clement Hathaway (Acting Bombardier 49434), Jack was caught in the German barrage and all three were killed.
The letters on this site were mostly written to his parents soon after his death. They describe a deeply loved and respected young man whose Christian faith and practice was clearly both a help and an inspiration to many.
Anne Arnott, in her book on Jack’s youngest sister Jean (who later married Donald Coggan the future Archbishop of Canterbury), recalls the news of Jack’s death -
Jack was mentioned in Field Marshall Haig’s despatches of December 1917 in a list of those “whose distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty I consider deserving of special mention”.
“Jack, her eldest brother, was something of a hero to the younger children. He had fulfilled his father’s highest hopes, for Dr Strain had set his whole heart on having a medical son to follow him. After a distinguished school career he went to Cambridge to study medicine. It seemed he inherited all that was best in both the parents. He had become a convinced Christian, and had a host of friends. Everything he touched seemed to prosper. Dr Strain was close to his eldest son in a special way. Moreover, Jack seemed to understand his father so well, to penetrate the reserve of the man, and to sense that he was vulnerable. Above all, he understood his father’s uncompromising faith and simple way of worship with the Brethren, in which he felt he was truly nearest the practice of the early apostles.
Dr Strain was immensely proud of his son. He felt the Lord had blessed him, and would keep him and give him a great work in life. Even when the time came for Jack to join the army, where he became a young officer, the doctor was sure all would be well. As he went off to the Front, prayers were constantly said for him. His parents committed him to the Lord for safe-keeping, and Dr Strain was sure that their prayers would be answered. The tragedy, when it came was a nearly mortal blow to the father. The news came that Jack had been killed at the Battle of Ypres in 1917, after volunteering for a particularly dangerous mission, saying : “I am a Christian. I am not afraid to die.”
Jean was nine years old. She was taken out by friends. Her mother was not seen for several days. Her father shut himself in his room. His grief was terrible.