From - Lieut Colonel A H Thorp RGA BEF
It is with the greatest regret that I have to write to inform you of the death of your son Captain JL Strain RGA.
He was out observing with another officer and both of them were killed by a shell during the evening of 31st July.
Everyone who ever came in contact with your son will be more than deeply cut up. He was the very essence of a soldier, a thorough gentleman, beloved by all who had anything to do with him, whether officer or man. As a soldier he was an example, fearless, brave, hardworking and cheery under all circumstances. We can ill afford to lose him, we cannot replace him.
He died a soldier's death, doing a soldier's duty, a death absolutely instantaneous. I can wish for nothing better for myself. His epitaph can be summed up in the few words "He did his duty".
All the officers and men and myself ask you to accept their heartfelt condolences, we miss him greatly.
If there is anything more you would like to know please write to me.
From Major Edward Hachborn, 214th Siege Battery BEF
My dear Mrs Strain,
Your son, Captain Strain was killed at 8 o'clock on the morning of July 31st.
The poor boy went over with our infantry, as an F.O.O. for the Corps and never returned alive. He was in company with another officer from the Group and both these dear young men were found lying side by side where they had fallen.
Before leaving me in the Battery I observed your son to go to his room and then he spent all of ten minutes on his knees making his peace with the Almighty God that protects us all. Such is the type of boy that has passed away from us all, but NOT forgotten, and is your dear son.
I am endeavouring if at all possible to get him back to the Battery, and give him a proper burial. If I succeed I shall send you all particulars as to where you can find the grave later on.
I shall write again and try and give fuller details.
N.B. Captain Strain was missing until 2 am this morning
From Sergeant Major A Jacobs, 214th Siege Battery, BEF France
It is with deepest regret I am writing to inform you that Captain J.L.Strain was killed in action on 31st of July 1917.
The Captain was most highly respected by all N.C.Os. and men of the Battery, both as an Officer and a gentleman. His value to the Battery cannot be over-estimated and I am afraid we have lost an Officer who will be hard to replace. His smiling face and cheery words of encouragement will be greatly missed by all ranks.
He never gave a man a task to perform which he would not undertake to do himself and his first thoughts were always for the men working under him. This will be a terrible blow to you and I trust God will give you strength and courage to bear this great burden.
The Captain died as he lived, an officer and a gentleman.
Please accept deepest sympathy from the N.C.Os. and men of the 214th Siege Battery RGA
From Lieut. A. W. Cockburn
Dear Mrs Strain,
I cannot help expressing to you my sincere sympathy in your terrible loss. All those of us who knew him out there must feel it very very deeply. It was the one thing that in the Battery we expressly hoped with one another would never happen: now it has happened, and I can imagine the sadness that reigns in the two Batteries who loved him.
Nobody could help loving Jack, even people who saw him only occasionally. It took a very short time to size him up as the most perfect little gentleman in his unvarying cheerfulness, his thought for others and contempt of danger when occasion demanded it, and the wonderful way in which he lived up to a wonderfully high ideal of thought and word and deed.
Those of us who knew him intimately in Ypres can hardly believe he has gone. He was the life and soul of the Mess, always joking and playing like a child, and yet most efficient as an officer and hugely respected by the men.
In the Mess, when "John" was there, nobody dared say anything of which he wouldn't approve, and nobody resented the restriction. In his influence on others, I don't think I've ever met such an effective Christian, certainly never in so young a man.
I know that Mr Mercer too will feel his going dreadfully: John told me how much Mr Mercer had done for him.
If only he had come safely through this war, he must have been a great figure in whatever he undertook in life. I would dearly loved to see him stay in England, where his qualities would be invaluable, though had he gone to S. America as I think his ambition was, he would shine perhaps even more there.
We all know that he is all right really and even happier than he was here; extinguished from this life only, and that only for a short time we may be separated. Yet the pain of parting is deep, and there is no getting over that. Will you and Mr Strain accept my deepest sympathy?
Believe me, dear Mrs Strain,
From Lieut M Webb-Peploe, RGA
Dear Mrs Strain,
I hardly know how to write to you, but feel I ought to try and express a little of the sympathy I feel in this great sorrow. It came as an awful shock to me to learn of Jack's death from Selous, and we could not believe it at first.
I went down to see his Battery in the Town where it still is today to find out if it were really so. As always he volunteered for the job of F.O.O. and went across with the infantry. One of the officers of the Battery said "he was never so happy as when he was up the line in the O.P. and he left us in great spirits on the morning of the attack. He and the officer with him and a signaller were caught in the German barrage and all three were killed".
He is greatly missed in the Battery and it is an awful loss to those of us who counted him as a friend. One has but few friends now and it is hard when one of them goes.
Yet it is not the same for us who have a better hope, and for him it is far better - face to face as we shall be some day.
One wonders why it is that God always - or often - seems to take the best and finest when they are so much needed - and yet He knows best.
May the Lord Jesus soon come when we shall see Him and those with Him.
Please remember me to Dr. Strain and the others in great sympathy
Yours very sincerely,
From Lieut. D. Ashton L. Wade. R.C.A.
Dear Mrs Strain,
I can't really say how sorry I feel for you in the terrible loss you have suffered.
It was a great shock to me to read of Jack's death in the "Times" yesterday, especially as I was expecting to hear from him soon.
He was a very true friend to me, and I shall always remember the happy times we had together last summer.
Often was the time when he cheered me up, especially when we got out to the Front, and I shall always remember him coming to see me last December, when I was in the casualty clearing station.
I wonder if you could spare me a photo of him sometime, as I have none, and would greatly value one.
Yours very sincerely,
From Lieut. W. Selous. RGA
Dear Dr. and Mrs Strain,
You have lost one of the bravest and noblest of boys and many of us have lost a true and delightful friend.
Although he was so young he had a strong personality, affectionate as a friend, everybody loved him. All the fellows who were with me at Trowbridge always singled him out for special praise. He had been with Jesus and he didn't hesitate to let others know. He didn't speak about it but everything about him made one feel it.
From W Cam
On Active Service
Major Scantlebury has sent your letter on to me and I have endeavoured to obtain the particulars required. The officer who was with John when he was killed was 2nd Lieut. Linden and his parent's address is:
Mrs Linden, The Nook, Castlerock, County Derry, Ireland.
John was the best friend I had out here and the news of his death was an awful shock to me. I felt that I should write to you but really I could not make up my mind to do so. I felt that I could not find words to adequately express my sorrow and the deep sympathy that I felt for Mrs Strain and yourself in your bereavement.
I know how you must have looked forward to the time when he would be going out into the world on whatever he deemed his call. As a doctor he would have been first but I think he had a great yearning for missionary work. He and I used to have long talks together and I think we got to know each other very well. I met my wife when she was a missionary in India and being intimately acquainted with the work I was able to give him an insight into the work out there.
He had a great influence for good in the Mess and I was very sorry when he left us to go to the 214th as Captain.
All the men in the battery loved him and there were many volunteers to fetch him in but of course that was out of the question.
Only a few days before he went over the top he came round to dinner with me and was very cheerful and pleased at the idea of going. He had not an atom of fear in him.
He and I were in a dugout together in January last and getting a very bad time of it. I never thought I should get away with it and I think he thought the same but as he said "he was quite ready". It is only the best that go.
When circumstances permit I will find out where he is buried and get the padre to write to the W.O. regarding a photo of the spot. This should be quite possible but of course will take some time.
From Second Lieut H F Moss, 168th Siege battery
Dear Dr Strain
I saw in the “Times” yesterday the announcement of your son’s death at the Front. Allow me to express my deep sympathy with you and Mrs Strain in your irreparable loss.
I joined the 168th Battery at Devonport in July 1916 and was under your son as Corporal until last February, when I came home to take a commission. I shall be going out again very shortly.
Being with the men both at home and in France I had many times seen how much Mr Strain was to them, and can say no more than that we in his Battery absolutely loved him, and would have done anything for him. He was ever ready to help us in every way, and always cheerful in the many hot times we had. I feel sure that could I see the Battery now there is greater sorrow over his loss than ever before.
Personally I am very sorry indeed that our army has lost such a splendid officer, and though at the time that I knew him I was a ranker I regarded him as a friend, both on and off duty. So solicitous was he for all the men under him.
I sympathise with you deeply, you have the consolation however that he died a magnificent death in a great and worthy cause.
From Dr W. Loudon Strain (father)
"Plaisance", Lancaster Avenue, Wimbledon
14th August, 1917.
Dear Mr. Mercer,
Your loving letter of sympathy was a great comfort to my dear wife and myself.
Of all dear Jack's "Senior" friends I doubt if there was anyone who had been brought into closer relationships with the dear boy than yourself, and as his father I wish to thank you for all the loving interest you took in him, both in regards his spiritual and material welfare, and I feel assured your labour of love for dear Jack during nearly eleven years has not been in vain.
I am sure you will be deeply interested to read some of the very numerous letters we have received from old Westminsters, Varsity friends, and fellow soldiers, all bearing testimony to the influence for good Jack had had on them.
His Major gives us a beautiful little glimpse of the dear boy spending at least ten minutes in prayer before he left to go over with the infantry for an attack on Frezenberg Reboubt. The Major said that doubtless "he was making his peace with God, as we all must die".
I have written to the Major thanking him for his loving sympathy, and told him I was sure Jack was not praying to make his peace with God, for some years ago he definitely accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his own personal Saviour, and there and then he knew what it was to have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I told him that in a recent letter to his mother Jack said that during a particularly hot engagement he was singing: -
"Stayed upon Jehovah
Hearts are fully blest
Finding as He promised
Perfect peace and rest."
I pray that the message may be blest to the Major, and also to the Colonel, to whom I also wrote.
I hope you will come in sometime and see some of the letters. I wonder if you could let me have a few notes of dear Jack's address to the boys when he was home in June. If you can, I would be grateful and so would be his mother.
Again thanking you, dear Mr Mercer,
Yours most sincerely,
W. Loudon Strain
PS Stewart and Douglas are still away at their uncle's, but expect to return on Monday next.
A Son’s Death
Thou hast taken the fairest: he was fairest to me;
Thou hast taken the fairest: 'tis always Thy way;
Thou hast taken the dearest: was he dearest to Thee?
Thou art welcome, thrice welcome - yet woe is the day!
I murmur not. Father! My will is with Thee;
I knew at the first that my darling was Thine:
Hadst Thou taken him earlier, O Father ! - but see !
Thou hadst left him so long that I dreamed he was mine.
Thou hast honored my child by the speed of Thy choice,
Thou hast crowned him with glory, o'erwhelmed him with mirth:
He sings up in Heaven with his sweet-sounding voice,
While I, a saint's mother, am weeping on earth.
Go, go with thy God, with thy Saviour, my child!
Thou art His; I am His; and thy sisters are His:
But to-day thy fond mother with sorrow is wild,—
To think that her son is an angel in bliss!
Oh forgive me, dear Saviour! on heaven's bright shore
Should I still in my child find a separate joy:
While I lie in the light of Thy Face evermore,
May I think heaven brighter because of my boy?
From Mr Mercer & Dr Bishop
Cedar House, Highbury Road, Wimbledon
August 26th 1917
The chief point of Jack Strain's address to my mind was the "comfort of prayer."
In Acts 16 verses 9 and 10 it is clearly seen the force of the faith of prayer. Strain specially drew attention to this.
He said when he was at the front it was the greatest possible Comfort to him to think of the W.S.M.U Meetings on Sunday afternoons and to think that he was being prayed for by friends.
He also said when he was F.O.O. it was the greatest comfort to think of others praying for him when he was in danger.
He also mentioned on one occasion a man who was going over the top who spent 5 minutes first in prayer mentioning ii Tim ii 3 verse saying how he thought him a true son of God. I think those were his closing words.
Additional note by a Dr Bishop -
The two verses taken were 6 and 7. Jack drew attention to the way in which every detail of St Paul's life was regulated by the guidance of the Holy Spirit; how he prevented this or that movement and how sensitive Paul was to this guidance. He urged on us the necessity of this being so attuned to the ways and will of God that we might also have our every action under similar control.
He pointed out how payer was the method of bringing our lives into this intimate contact and relationship. I think he ended with “But to be guided thus, we must live very close.”
He mentioned how this intimate contact brought perfect peace and assurance and then gave the illustration from the front.
Speaking of the Macedonian Vision he said - “You must be living very close to God to have a vision”
R A Mess, Cooden Camp, Bexhill, 24 VIII 17
My dear Mr Mercer
I am so sorry for the delay.
As far as I remember Jack Strain’s illustration was more or less as follows:-
He had been told off to a dangerous job, F.O.O (Forward Observation Officer) during an infantry attack, which if remember right we had to follow up.
When “zero hour” (the time fixed for the infantry to go over the top) came, Jack Strain was lying in a shell-hole in front of the front line trench, observing.
As the Infantry wave passed him he heard a man singing or saying (I forget which) something to the effect that if he didn’t come back again he would be somewhere far better. Was he not known as “Happy Jack” in his Company? I think he was.
Jack did not see him afterwards, but he was glad to hear that the fellow did come back again, and was one of the very few who did.
He pointed out, if I am not mistaken, what a comfort we would find the Saviour to us as time went on, if not already, when in difficult and dangerous positions, as the man in the illustration who was so calm and happy in the face of death, for machine-gun bullets were coming over thick and fast.
I am afraid that my memory ends here. He said more before the illustration, but it has I am afraid gone.
I must close now, I am so frightfully busy! How delightful it was on Sunday!
PS Shall be thinking of you very much on Sunday
From Mrs H Speers
Sao Paulo, Brazil
14th Sept 1917
My dear Mrs Strain
For more than a month I have been longing to write to you - ever since I saw that notice in the Rio papers on 9h August. But the mails are so few now that if one misses even one it seems to make a great gap.
Then on 14th August I received your very kind and welcome letter of 2nd July. Many thanks for it. But for 3 weeks I have been suffering from a violent attack of my old enemy, the severe intestinal pain. Not able to lie by I still found it very disabling or I would not have let all this time go by without trying to express to you something of the sympathy and sorrow which have filled my heart (& indeed all our hearts) at the knowledge of your irreparable loss & heartbroken grief.
But it seems as though I cannot put it on paper - dear Mrs Strain - My heart has been sore - sore - for you and the doctor - more even that for the beloved boy himself; for we must believe that for him it is “Far better” than all your love could make it here.
But for you, and for the many who loved him! Few, surely, more than my husband and I. The tears of old age are few and slow, but mine have fallen for dear, dear Jack; and I have not had the courage to take down his photo and look at it!
A few nights ago we had a memorial service for Nelly Biddell, - to my mind and feeling it seemed almost for for jack.
Of all those whom this hideous war could take away there is none whose loss we should feel so keenly, excepting only Charlie. (He was well and kept busy in Palestine, up to 1st August).
I had been terribly afraid that you had not seen your beloved boy at all, since his first start; but when your letter told me of his ten days at home with you all, I could only exclaim “Thank God”.
For not to have seen him once again would have been an additional heartbreak.
Then yesterday Dr Strain’s most welcome letter of 9th August arrived, and again I past nothing but happy memories. Oh the comfort of it! The solace and relief: in this you are indeed to be envied.
Many expressions of sympathy have reached us from those who knew you here, and knew him as a child. Our boys felt for your grief and our dear daughter-in-law, Victoria, for she has a very loving heart.
And when I first phoned the sad to Tom, he exclaimed: “O, don’t say that, Mother! O, I am sorry, I am very sorry”.
Many thanks dear Mrs Strain for all the interesting details your letter gave me, and for your kind sympathy with me in the loss of my sister and all your inquiries after our welfare. I believe my sister’s complaint was obscure. It lasted a very long time, only seeming sudden just at last, when through God’s mercy, as I feel sure, heart-failure put a gentle close to what might have been months of further suffering. She died in Tom’s house, where Victoria had persuaded her to go for a change, and the rest she would hardly take at home. She was their five weeks treated with the utmost love and care. Of course we called in other medical men to share Gordon’s responsibility, but they could do little beyond confirming his diagnosis.
As to my dear husband, he had not, I am most thankful to say, had nearly so much illness during this winter as he had last. But each winter seems to get colder, and we have bioth inevitably felt it much at our advancing age!
That reminds me of how terribly Mr Savoury must, I fear, feel this sorrow and loss. `One seems to feel things far more I think in age than in growth. But again, - your other dear children, - O, I am grieved for their loss. Such a brother! Such a helpful example and influence. Yet an ever stimulating memory. Please give my loving sympathy to those of them who remember me.
I am so interested in all your letter tells me of them and dear Agnes Rogers. But I must stop for the post.
My husband sends his very kindest remembrance to all of you (he posted to the Dr some days agio) and with mine to him and all the love and sympathy I can send you, and praying often that our Father will ever have you in his loving care.
Believe me dear Mrs Strain
Your ever affectionate friend
Letter from Norman Leak
The British Hospital
August 29th 1917
Dear Mrs Strain.
I don’t know. Perhaps it is a selfishness, perhaps it is needless reference to a great sorrow, but I do feel an irrepressible desire to write or say something to somebody about the awful shock it was to read Jack’s name – or so I presume – in the casualty lists today. I could hardly believe it, I cannot realise it. To think that never again on this earth I shall see him in the flesh – though often in the photograph you so kindly sent me a while ago – I cannot realise it. And yet – well it is a blessed thing to have a sure and certain hope that one day we shall meet again, and though I suppose our thoughts will be almost entirely occupied with the Lord Jesus Himself, yet I suppose it will be one of the added joys of heaven to meet with and once again enjoy fellowship with one’s friends on earth.
And Jacko was so charming. I only got to know him at Studland Camp in 1913 and took to him at once. He was so loving and so lovable and kind to all about him. I did not meet him very often since, but it was always a great joy to do so and times I have often looked back on with much pleasure. But the last time I met him was to us both I think a time of the greatest joy. It was at Cambridge when I was taking my final M.B. and he his 1st M.B. I shall never, never forget the times we had together. He was so splendid. We used to sit up by the coffee and the fire hour after hour when perhaps we should have been studying medicine, talking about all sorts of things but mostly those connected with the “things of the Kingdom”. It was I think one of the very happiest times of my life. He was so delightful ad fresh and enthusiastic and with all so humble and simple about everything. I seldom parted from anyone with more regret than I did from him on Cambridge Station that December morning. How we both looked forward to meeting again after this War should finish and enjoying in Mission work, one in Spirit if not in sphere of work. And yet still more how we looked forward ti the Great meeting again when we shall meet in His likeness with all evil and sin taken away. Well that meeting will not fail anyhow. One has an added interest in Heaven now Jacko is gone to await me there, as one’s past is fuller and richer for having had the joy of knowing him down here.
But if I feel the loss so as a friend then what must it be to his Mother to have lost such a son. I hope that it is not wrong or rude of me to write so to someone whom I have never seen, and I don’t know whether it is any comfort to know that an unknown person sympathises in one’s sorrow, but I simply cannot help writing and expressing my sorrow and sympathy at the loss of such a son. Quite apart from loving him one could not help building up all sorts of hopes about him. How I and many others looked forward to a time of great progress and blessing up at Cambridge with such a fine lot of fellows as Jacko, Poggy Pile, Thoebald, Webb-Peploe, Cecil Harder and others to lead them! And now it is all gone, but yet GOD must still have purposes of blessing for it as well as for us, and even tho’ His ways are mysterious one cannot help trusting HIM. If Jacko found in the book and the Lord his delight I am sure that he would wish that we should find our comfort in his loss in the same place, even as we find there the pledge of our meeting again. One feels inclined to weep with Milton over Lycides “Gone ’ere his prime” but GOD must have some purpose behind it. Even if we haven’t got the pen on Milton to raise an immortal lament it is perhaps truer and nobler to raise an immortal memorial to him by work more truly done as Jacko would have done it and in that gentle generous spirit which in him was so noticeable and out here as elsewhere so very rare.
Well, I can’t lament Jacko forever – not on paper anyhow – I must close what is to me one of the saddest I have ever written although there is at the same time a peculiar joy in paying an unworthy tribute to one of the finest and most attractive boys I have ever met, one whom it did one good to meet and whom it was a privilege to know, one whom I shall ever count one of my closest and warmest friends and one who won my love and esteem more almost than any other because of what he was, what he did and how he did it.
Kindly forgive this disorderly letter and please accept with it the heartfelt sympathy for yourself and all your family.
From one of Jacko’s friends and admirers
Little Jackie - August 20th 1896
Dear Jack - August 1st 1917
A life not broken but fulfilled, complete,
A golden ore, with store of memories sweet,
To us who linger in the shade and strife
The inspiring power of an endless life
Begun with us …. The tender, sunny smile
And fine, sweet spirit lent to us awhile,
The Master needed, and in wider sphere
He gives glad service, while we sorrow here.
Not “gone”, “lost” - vaguely - not “at rest” and still
In a great silence and the lonely chill
We call the grave - but raised to glorious height
Of opportunity, beyond our right.
No single shadow on our thought of him,
We thank God humbly, tho’ our eyes are dim
For gifts of grace and, knowing his great gain
We wrestle, striving to endure the pain.
We try to catch he Vision of the Lord
In glorious purpose, mid the flaming sword
Of conflict and the terror of the drear
Dark days and long. To him ‘tis crystal clear.
We are as one who climbs the belfry’s height
And, as the peal out-crashes on the night
Hear only clamour and the maddening sound
Deafens our ears, while yet beyond, around
The mellow music melts on distant hill
And saddened hearts take courage, and are still.
His now the wider, grader view. He knows God’s mighty purpose, working thro’ the throes
Of the world warfare and its agony -
Knows the Great Glory that shall surely be.
And near at hand - for dare we say ‘tis far
The glorious Homeland where are loved ones are
He bends in tender love o’er us who wait
A later entrance thro’ the Heavenly Gate.
Out of our pain
Into Thy store of garnered grain
For higher work, to use again
We yield him Lord
And trust Thy Word.
Ay, it is well -
From sweeping shot and shiek of shell 0
From all that makes this earth a hell -
He’s safe at last,
The rough road passed.
Oh, give us Light
To see him precious in They sight,
In darkest hours of sorrow’s night
Do Thou sustain
And soothe our pain.