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One Soldier – One Day – One Life

Kenneth Jenkins was the youngest son of Frederick Jenkins, Secretary of Tyndale. In 1914 he enlisted with the North Somerset Yeomanry with the rank of corporal. He was one of some twenty members of Tyndale families who had enlisted by the end of 1914. By May 1915 he had been promoted to the rank of sergeant.

In May 1915 Sergeant Kenneth Jenkins wrote an account of his experiences in the trenches. This was published in The Tyndale Messenger the following July. The North Somerset Yeomanry were part of the 6th Cavalry Brigade and the events he described took place in the area around Ypres on 13th May 1915. The Yeomanry occupied trenches in front of Bellewaarde Farm. There were 16 officers and about 300 other ranks. Here are some extracts from what Jenkins wrote:

Canadiens-tranchéesWe each of us wonder that we are alive after it. At 3.30, dawn on Thursday, they started shelling us and from then, continuously till dark… We could do nothing but stand and keep a sharp look out for over fifteen hours, expecting to be blown to Hades every minute… Our trenches were being blown in, kit and ourselves being buried time after time. As soon as a breach was repaired with sand bags etc., another would come and breach it in another place. Men were falling practically all up and down the line, and there was a constant stream of wounded struggling through the all too narrow trenches to the dressing station…

Our line originally was about 800 yards long, but gradually we had to concentrate owing to losses and blown-in trenches, and of the 290 men and officers who went in, only 170 came out, just 24 hours later… it was simply shells and shrapnel that did it all!…

We had eight casualties among twelve officers. As a regiment we are practically without officers…

The rest of the Brigade is even worse… But in spite of it all, the spirit of the men is fine… We spent yesterday in a big house still within gun range… It seems that the 13th was an exceptional day, and I heard a regular officer say that it was a longer and fiercer bombardment than he had ever seen men undergo.

Russian TroopsWhen I mention that kit was buried, I mean buried past digging out… The weather was rotten – cold and raining, and our coats are still sodden, indeed, the trenches were about as bad for wet and mud as in November, and we had the same trouble with rifles jamming as we had then… I had 10 casualties out of 27 in my troop… We were to have been in the trenches four days, but were so cut up, that we were sent back and relieved…

I will endeavour to tell you what it was like. It will not be easy though, even then, as such a hammering as we had is apt to leave one’s mind rather vacant on some points; but the horror of the constant stream of wounded that struggled past me in the narrow trenches, on their way to the dressing station is still vivid. But there are things one will never be able to forget.

I lost one man in my troop, and eight were wounded, two badly. It was truly awful, and yet, you know why, I had little feelings of actual fear… We are now camping in a brick field, and having built little houses with bricks and tiled them, are fairly comfy. I don’t know what they are going to do with us, as we are minus our Colonel (wounded), our Adjutant (killed) and both the others wounded…

I have never spent such a long day as I did on Thursday. We stuck to our trenches, however, and this morning, on a Church Parade we had, our Brigadier thanked and complimented us on the fine work we did.

Two months later, in July, Jenkins was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the same regiment. In September 1916, he resigned his membership of Tyndale and joined the Church of England and, shortly afterwards, he married Julia Louisa Coulbourne, a dance teacher. At the beginning of 1918 he was attached to the new Tank Corps, which saw action on the Somme. It was there that he was mortally wounded and died on 31 March 1918, aged 31. He had no children and his widow did not remarry. She lived to the age of 87 and died in 1978.

David T. Roberts