In the course of her research into the Rev Richard Whincup’s chaplaincy with the 1/6 West Yorkshire Regiment, Rev Cat Thatcher, assistant curate at Bradford Cathedral, came across two letters written by George Conder. With her permission we reproduce these extracts.The first, dated 29 August 1915, was to his sister, Kathleen Mary Conder.Yesterday morning (Sat) a clergyman came up our lines wished us all good morning whom I guessed rightly to be Rev Whincup; later it was announced that a communion service would be held at 11.30 in the Dressing Station on the Canal Bank so I went. It was a strange scene the 1st I have attended since coming here. The Dressing Station was once an estaminet but now is devoid of furniture except a few chairs. Stretchers and such like with a few mirrors. No glass in the windows and no doors.
The general opinion was that the room, the service was held in, was cleaner than it had been since the civilians left it, it certainly smelt of Jeyes fluid which had been freely spattered on the stone floor. A table at the far end had been covered with a white cloth and the vessels were neatly arranged on it. About 50 were there including 3 officers. Rev W addressed a few words to us before the service saying how pleased he was to be with us etc and asking us to be sure to let him know if there was anything he could do for any of us. DisinfectantHe also asked whether we preferred to have the service standing or kneeling as the floor was a bit sloppy in places and finally left it optional. I may say no one stood. We have knelt in worse places than a stone floor with disinfectant on (but he is new to this life). It was a quiet impressive service. Some of the Commandments could hardly be taken literally especially
about Sundays and covetousness and other things but we all responded heartily. Rice paper wafers inscribed IHS were used rather to the embarrassment of one of the few 1st who had never seen the like and did not know if it were a keepsake or not until Rev W had to tell them they were intended to be eaten at once. This may sound jocular but isn’t intended to be a skit. I was serious enough at the time. After the service was over I stayed behind to try and get a word with Rev W and was pleased I did as he was very nice. When I told him my name, at once knew who I was. Said there was a facial resemblance to you and said both he and Mrs W thought very highly of your useful work in their parish and etc.Am afraid he will have many disappointments during his army career as a very small percentage can bring themselves to a state of mind necessary for Communion except RC of course who never miss a chance of Mass!
I told him my view on Compulsory Church parades when you are herded with men who ridicule the whole thing and make one’s blood boil. ArtilleryHave had to retire to the safety trench while the artillery of both sides have their usual Sunday morning hate. It’s funny how spiteful Sundays seem to be there is generally an (you will notice how low my stock of notepaper has got) attack or bombardment on Sundays.The second was an encouraging note to his mother, written just four days before he was killed.Dear Mother“It is certainly not my turn yet. So your prayers are answered so far. We are quite callous now about death: one has to be.”“Have not seen the Rev. Mr. Whincup for a month, but hear he was in the trenches the other day. He always stops and has a word when we meet.”
L Cpl Conder’s family learned of his death from letter sent by Pte Cecil Rhodes who was serving with him.They also received a letter, dated 11 October 1915, from Rev R Whincup, the Windhill vicar who was at the front as chaplain to the West Yorkshire Regiment. In it he said that he had ‘buried L Cpl Conder in a newly made little cemetery a short distance behind the firing line (right), where rest the bodies of many other fine British soldiers.Dangerous work‘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.’
During the next Sunday service at St Peter’s. Shipley, where L Cpl Conder’s father was a sidesman, the Rev F B Hope said: ‘The laying down of a human life is the noblest act a mortal man can perform and thousands of gallant British soldiers have willingly yielded up their lives for King and country in this awful war.
‘The names of those heroes are sacred to every Englishman and their memories are folded deep in the hearts of those who have known and loved them.‘Here I desire to mention a name that is in our thoughts today, the name of George William Conder, and to add on behalf of the parish and congregation a tribute of sincere regret and sympathy to that of all who knew and valued him.’The Rev Hope added that the lesson to be learned from L Cpl Conder’s life was devotion to duty: ‘May the young manhood of the country especially hearken to the deceased’s voice as a voice from the grave and rally to the standard of right against might.’The hymns ‘O God our help in ages past,’ ‘Now the labourer’s task is o’er’ and ‘Rock of Ages’ were sung. The organist, Mr C F Brook, played ‘O rest in the Lord’ at the start of the service and the ‘Dead March’ from Saul at the close.