Sep 232017


100 Years

My grandfather the war hero, killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele

On Friday January 26, 1917, Lieutenant John Ambrose Barrett sat down to write a letter to his young wife, Evelyn, who was at home in Kings Lynn heavily pregnant with their fourth child.

A commanding, moustachioed figure who had represented his alma mater Oxford University at rugby and tennis, Lt Barrett had already conducted himself with distinction during his time on the Western Front. The 36 year-old was among the oldest in the 16th battalion Rifle Brigade, and been nicknamed “Father Barrett” by his younger charges for his stoicism and caring demeanour.

But as German artillery shells pounded into the Allied lines, where his battalion was posted somewhere to the north of Ypres, Lt Barrett revealed something to his wife that fellow soldiers would never dare to admit to one another in the heat of battle: he was scared, and he knew his time was up.

“It is an awful wrench, Evie, to leave you and the children, for I had counted on doing with your help all we possibly could for them,” he wrote. “Kiss them for me, they cannot realise that I shall not see them again, but let them know their Daddy loves them and meant to do his very utmost for them.”

Lt Barrett’s prediction that the “Boche was sending something over with my name and address on it” came to bear just six months later on July 31, 1917, the first day of the third Battle of Ypres.

He was shot dead alongside another lieutenant, while leading the successful capture of an enemy machine gun nest. By November of that year some 320,000 allied troops were wounded or killed during the prolonged massacre that came to be known simply as the Battle of Passchendaele.

He enlisted in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in King’s Lynn in December 1915, and applied for a commission in March 1916 – but was turned down due to a lack of previous military training. Barrett then joined the Oxford University OTC and was commissioned in the Rifle Brigade in October 1916, being sent to France as a signals officer. 

Evelyn was just 26 years-old when her husband was killed. She and the children were taken in by a succession of relatives, before eventually settling in the sprawling country home of a distant uncle near Cringleford, Norfolk

John Barrett, who was killed aged 37, on 31st July 1917

Sourced from the

Story by Joe Shute

Picture credited too Julian Simmonds

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