In 1915, Rupert Inglis decided that, if he was to encourage the young men of his village to sign up for the army, he would also have to volunteer. At the age of 51 he was commissioned as a Chaplain to the Forces, 5 July 1915; he was attached to 1st Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, arriving in France later in July 1915. He wrote to his parishioners explaining his reasons for joining the forces:-
‘I think most of you will understand how I come to be writing from France. I have felt that in this great crisis of our nation’s history, everyone ought to do what he can to help. I have said this both publicly and privately, but it has been hard to tell people that they ought to leave their homes, to go out into strange and new surroundings, to endure discomforts and danger—perhaps to face death—it has been hard to tell people that this was their duty and then to remain comfortably at home myself. So that is why I have left you for an indefinite period’.
For a short while he did duty at No. 23 General Hospital, Étaples, and then joined No. 21 Casualty Clearing Station at Corbie, near Albert. In December 1915, he was attached to the 16th Infantry Brigade, 6th Division, in the Ypres Salient.
Throughout his time at the front, he wrote home regularly either to his parishioners or to his wife. At first, his letters home are optimistic and bright but the tone changes as he spends more time close to the front. He spent his time acting as a censor of soldier's letters home as well as giving spiritual guidance to the wounded and conducting Sunday worship. He also helped the soldiers write letters home to their wives and families.
Saturday 10 July 1915:- Writing from No.23 General Hospital, Etaples: ‘At last I am allowed to say where I am. I am Chaplain of this Hospital with 1,160 beds in it, but only 400 are occupied at present’.
Monday 12:- ‘I have a little office in the main tin building where I am writing now, and have quite a nice little wood and canvas hut about 5ft. by 10ft…..I sleep on the floor, have got a mattress, I am very comfortable and sleep like a top’.
Tuesday 13:- The previous day Jim Stone, Royal West Kent Regiment (and of Street Farm, Frittenden), had been brought in ‘very badly wounded in the leg and went up to see him. He is a very nice chap and so grateful for the parcels you sent him. I am afraid he will lose his leg, but I haven’t told Mrs. Craddock yet, so don’t you, as it is not certain. They have taken three biggish bits of shrapnel out of his leg, but there is more to come. He was hit helping a wounded man to cover’.
Wednesday 21:- ‘I am very sad to-day as poor Jim Stone died at 3. He was going on so well, but this morning the nurse came and told me gangrene had set in, and that he was to have his leg amputated at 10 o’clock. I went in and stayed with him till he went to the operating theatre - he was very bright and wonderfully plucky. I went to see him as soon as he was brought back. He was partially conscious. I think he knew me, but he only lived an hour. He was a fine chap and I had got to like him. He seemed to be quite a link with home….. .’
Thursday 22:- ‘I took round some of the papers and puzzles. There was a frightful rush for the comic papers you sent, they were evidently appreciated; I could have done with a lot more. I want books, papers, puzzles and any games like draughts for the men, as there is nothing here’.
Saturday 31:- ‘The Gramophone arrived this morning and has quite upset the whole hospital ... It is now in ward 21, which is full of patients. You never saw anything like their delight with it. It is the neatest one I have ever seen …. it really was a delight to see their happy faces’.
Friday 6 August:- ‘We had another convoy in last night. I managed to get rid of a great many cigarettes - at the end of the journey they hardly had one between them. The M.C.C. have sent me a splendid lot of cricket things. I think people forget the enormous number of R[oyal] A[rmy] M[edical] C[orps] that are required to run these Hospitals - we have over 200 here still 40 under strength - we have 35 doctors and 75 nurses’
Saturday 7:- ‘I am awfully busy as I have such a lot of letters to write for other people, - they are such difficult letters as a rule. A boy who is desperately ill always tells you to write that he is going on splendidly.’
Tuesday 7 September:- ‘I had your parcels today – people are awfully good about sending things and my room gets more and more like a general store. Now when I get the games from Hamley’s and picture puzzles, I shall be very well stocked. I want more of those nice little packets of chocolate. I try to give all the boys going to England a packet for the journey’.
Tuesday 21:- ‘This Casualty Clearing Station is a great deal rougher than what I have been accustomed to at the base... We have to keep near the firing line and if the line moves we should move with it, so we can’t be cumbered with much stuff... We are fortunate in having the greater part of ours [CCS] in an old ruined bicycle factory... I am living in a very comfortable farm house – have a room to myself with a bed in it – no sheets – I expect I shall find it too soft to sleep in... I had a letter from the Bishop this evening asking if I would like to go back at once to 23 General Hospital as permanent Chaplain to the end of the War. I was very happy there, but I would much sooner take my regular turn of work with all the other Chaplains’.
Friday 24:- ‘We sent out 146 patients and there was an awful rush... I was very glad to have all the papers along with the chocolate – I was able to give out one a piece’.
Sunday 26:- ‘I started the day with a celebration in the attic at 6.45. I was amused to see how many of the stretchers [cases] could raise up when I started ‘God Save the King’’.
Friday 1 October:- ‘went through Albert to-day... The Church and village are wrecked, there’s a huge hole made by a Jack Johnson [nickname for a heavy black German artillery 150mm shell, after the first African American world heavyweight champion] outside the west door of the Church.’
Monday 4:- ‘an aerial torpedo exploded in a dug-out. There were 30 men in it - 8 were killed and all the rest were burnt mostly in the face and hands. They were an awful sight coming in. The shell evidently contained liquid. I and a nurse fed the 10 of them beef-tea and milk had to be poured down their throats.’
Saturday 9:- ‘I am glad to say all the men with burns are going on very well to-day. I have written letters for them all and talked to them a good deal, but I don’t know one of them by sight. They have complete masks over their faces, I do not think any of them will lose an eye, yesterday it looked as if they might. Only two of the lot are wounded by the shell, the rest were all burnt with the contents…..’
Thursday 4 November: - ‘We get a great many head cases in from bombs and hand grenades. The French Infantry in the trenches now wear metal helmets. I wonder we don’t do the same. I fancy they would save a good many lives, as so many head cases die.’
Friday 26:- ‘This afternoon I was making arrangements about the recreation room. We hope to open it next Thursday. All the games from Harrods have arrived. We have got a piano, quite a good one.’
Monday 13:- ‘It is very nice meeting people out here. I had a very disturbed night, as the bed was only 5ft. 6in., which made it difficult for me to fit in. Then a battery of artillery lost its way in the dark, and one of the riders came and knocked at my window to see if I could help, which I could. Then a rat came and gnawed over my head for the rest of the night. I talked to it violently several times but it never stopped... I am feeling very dirty. I haven’t had a bath for nearly a week and I haven’t had a change of clothes on since I don’t know when, all my things were at the wash when I left 21 C.C.S.’
Wednesday 15:- ‘Taking my walk abroad yesterday afternoon the first person I came up against was Tom Jackson [Gould Farm], it was his battery that disturbed my slumbers the night before. He is billetted in a farm about a mile from here.’
Thursday 23:- ‘We had a very rough night with lots of rain. The trenches are in an awful state. It is of course, quite impossible to drain them, as everything is flat, but the men are wonderfully cheerful - look well, and there is not a great amount of sickness.’
Sunday 26:- ‘Well we had a wonderful Xmas….. There was a concert 5 - 8. The place was packed. You couldn’t see from one end of the room to the other, because of the smoke. We sang “Auld Lang Syne” and other things... This is really a ghastly country - very flat and ugly, and mud which beggars description, and is getting worse. We can’t go outside our hut except with high boots - soon it will be necessary to get boots which come up well above the knee. The roads are so tiring to the feet and in the dark one is always tumbling into holes... The York and Lancs. tell me that they want socks very badly. I hope to get the ones sent by you to-morrow, so that they may have some before they go away.’
Friday 31:- ‘We are all very sick of the war, but I believe it’s nothing compared with the German sickness of it. This year they are getting all that they give, and a little more, and it makes a vast difference to last year when they gave us 10 times as much as they got….’
Tuesday 4th December:- ‘It is blowing a hurricane again to-night—they like a good wind here, as it does a certain amount of drying. They are going to give us a duck walk from the road to our hut, about two hundred yards - a duck walk is a little wooden footway about 2ft. broad, which goes on the top of the mud. It’s awfully difficult to get coal here - our allowance is 1½lbs. per head per day. It isn’t much, to keep this and the kitchen fire going.’
Thursday 6:- ‘This is a great day - I have had a bath. The baths are in a huge great cellar. It was really like a Dante’s Inferno – smoke and steam, and hundreds of human bodies going about it.’
Friday 7 December 1915:- ‘The beautiful boots have arrived. I haven’t tried them on yet and it really seems wicked to put them on to walk straight into a foot of mud. The mud is certainly getting worse.’
Tuesday 15 February 1916 Rupert Inglis wrote to HQ about Thomas Seeton, serving with 6th Battn, Royal fusiliers:- ‘He was one of Dr Barnardo’s boys & was sent to Frittenden when very small – He was mentally deficient & physically very weak. He was not expected to live long. He was very well taken care of & has enormously improved both in mind & body, but he is not right in his mind & physically he is not fit for foreign service.’
Saturday 26:- ‘I had a very late night at the Ambulance. We didn’t have a great number of cases but there was a heavy snowstorm and the roads were terribly skiddy. I nearly tumbled over a dozen times going up to the Ambulance. I had a bath in our new baths before breakfast.’
In a letter to Joan [his daughter] Rupert outlined how the wounded were processed:- ‘My Field Ambulance is on the main road between two towns. Of course none of the cases are kept very long - not more than twelve hours. I generally see first of all that all the men in the ward have something to smoke, but I spend most of my time in the theatre. Our best surgeon is a very nice Irishman and he always takes the worst cases and I sort of work with him. The men have generally had morphia given to them, but they do not often give an anaesthetic in a F[ield] A[mbulance], so it is very often very painful for the poor chaps having their wounds dressed and attended to …. A man often suffers a lot anticipating he is going to be hurt, and by talking to him and interesting him you can often take his mind off—about all sorts of things, cricket, football, boxing.’
After a brief spell at Calais in March 1916, Inglis returned to the Ypres Salient where the brigade came under heavy bombardment, resulting in many casualties. Over the next few months, he was regularly on the move with the brigade, spending much of his time, when not involved with funerals and other church services, organising a shop to supply the soldiers and later acting as "Mess President", organising the canteen.
Wednesday 1 March 1916:- ‘I saw what I have often heard of but never seen, viz., a man’s life being saved by a New Testament in his pocket; in fact he had a New Testament and a service book right over his heart …. It cut out a bit of the cover of the book exactly its own shape and size and then made an awful mess of the inside of the book, but didn’t go through it. It would certainly have killed him as it was right over the heart; as it was he was only bruised and shocked and I expect is quite right today.’
Tuesday 21:- ‘We walked back here about four miles. When about a mile we saw a Tommy of another regiment lying fast asleep and drunk by the roadside. After much hitting and kicking, we woke him up and then Murray got on one side and I got on the other and we pulled him up, and then holding him up, marched him very quickly. By the time we got to the camp he was more or less sober and could march by himself. Then he realised he was being befriended by two Colonels, his gratitude was very great and he became quite sober. Of course, if he had been absent without leave the whole night the penalty would have been a very heavy one. Can you imagine two German Colonels doing the like? …
The tent here is a Y.M.C.A; there are two ladies and a certain number of men – civilians - who I don’t like seeing here. Some of them look as if they might be doing other things; they say they have all been passed as unfit. One of them was very anxious to play the piano for me at the Parade Service on Sunday; I couldn’t have anyone who was not in uniform. I should like to see all the huts run by wounded soldiers. The soldiers have no respect for a young man who has got a soft job.’
Sunday 2 April 1916:- ‘The men are very happy here on the farms, and as most of them are farm hands, they give a hand with the work. Our farmer must be pretty well to do, he has a lot of stock and 27 milking cows….’
Friday 21:- ‘I was at the dressing station till nearly 3 this morning and was there again at 6 this morning. I am very dirty, as I haven’t washed or shaved or had my boots off.’
Sunday 23, Easter day:- ‘My beautiful long boots were hanging up outside the dug-out to-day and they were completely spoilt by a piece of shell which went through them both—they were wounded in six places.’
Monday 24:- ‘It seems that the Battalion had done very well indeed, in spite of the awful conditions, but I heard the Colonel is dangerously wounded, three officers killed, and several wounded. They were in an awful state- wet through and mud from head to foot. One of the Battalion was smothered (dead) in the mud. I heard of another who was up to his neck and was being pulled out when the man I spoke to last saw him…..Saturday was an awful day—it never stopped raining for a second. I was out taking funerals most of the day and got rather wet. Got about five hours in bed.’
Tuesday 23:- Rupert - ‘Ten new officers have arrived since I went on leave, so it is like getting to know them all over again. I think there are only about eight left of the original lot - I mean of those who were here when I came to the Brigade.’
June 1916:- ‘Very depressed all day as the first news we got of the sea fight [Battle of Jutland] was deplorable. The news (got by wireless) which I have been going about with today, was that we had lost 17 ships and the Germans only one. That was pretty depressing wasn’t it. The gunners have given me the latest wireless and it seems we did very well and that the German losses were rather greater than ours and they can’t afford it as well as we can.’
Monday 5:- ‘We are all very anxious to get some more definite news of the sea fight. It is all rather confused at present, and it is hard to make out whether our losses were heavier than theirs…….The M.C.C. have sent me a splendid lot of things for the Brigade. I don’t suppose we shall use them till we go out on rest, which will be pretty soon again now.’
Monday 19:- ‘Got the pineapples to-day, also a box of cigars from V. When I get home I shall miss all these little attentions.
Tuesday 20:- ‘…. The little exalted person [the Prince of Wales] was here again to-day. He came into our mess room, but I was in my own hut at the time. He looked very nice –the steel helmet which he was wearing last time didn’t at all suit him…..’
Tuesday 11 July 1916:- ‘You no sooner get to know people than they disappear. In a Brigade there are 140 officers, but I must have seen between 3 and 400 in seven months.’
Thursday 27:- ‘I am sending off to-day a skull cap and I want two or three hundred (to start with). They are for the Buffs - they go inside the steel helmet and make it quite comfortable and to speak plainly absorb the sweat. The K.S.L.I. have got them now for the whole regiment and find them a great blessing.’
Friday 11:- ‘Our days seem to be very full, there is little time for writing ... We could do with a great many Skull Caps, the number I could do with now is 1,500. I am hoping some will arrive to-night. You will be amused to hear that the new trench which is being dug here has been named Rector Trench. When it is put on the maps, which it will be in a day or two, I will try and get you a copy.’
Friday 18:- ‘I have taken the parcels of caps to the Buffs this afternoon, they are very much pleased with them. I was shown the map with “Rector Trench” marked on it - it goes right up to the German lines…..’
Sunday 10:- ‘I managed to get up 2,500 cigarettes yesterday and divided them between the battalions to-day. Had a worrying sort of Sunday... what would you think of the respectable old Rector of Frittenden taking a celebration at 6 o’clock in the evening attired just in his ordinary clothes - his Altar an upturned munition box.’
Tuesday 12:- ‘It’s just splendid the way our guns keep going. It’s just a roar all the time. The Germans give us in 24 hours about as much as we give them in every hour.’
Wednesday 13:- ‘Ingram wanted to find the various Aid Posts and Dressing Stations and so did I … It was the battlefield of a few days ago and the whole place was churned up with shell fire and littered with debris - German, French and English. It is absolutely indescribable …. We sat down for some time at what had been a large farm. It was absolutely level with the ground - destroyed by shell fire.’
By mid September 1916, he was at Ginchy; two days after the Battle of Ginchy, when the village was re-taken from the enemy. On 18 September, he joined a party of stretcher-bearers, in order to help bring in the wounded. While doing this, he was struck by a fragment of shell and while his wound was being dressed a second shell killed him instantly. In his letter of condolence to Mrs. Inglis, Rev. Neville Talbot praised Inglis' bravery and gallantry:- ‘I cannot overstate the sorrow there is to-day in his Brigade. They simply loved him.’
He was buried close to the battlefield at Ginchy; his body was not recovered after the end of the war. He is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial for those with no known resting place. Aged 53, he is the oldest of the 72,205 British remembered there.
Thursday 5 October 1916:- A Memorial Service for Rupert Inglis was held at St Mary’s Frittenden. It was conducted by Canon Bell, Headmaster of Cranbrook School and Chairman of Cranbrook’s Poor Law Board of Guardians (of which Rupert was a member).
1 November 1917 the Lych gate at the entrance to St Mary’s Church erected to the memory of Rupert Inglis was unveiled at a ceremony attended by a large congregation, including the children from the village school.