Jack Widdicombe was born in 1896 in Dartmouth in Devon, the son of Ernest and Edith Widdicombe. He had a younger sister Ethel (bn 1898) who is frequently mentioned in his letters. By the time Jack was five the family had moved to 14 Oxford Road, Wallington in Surrey. By 1911 they were living at 45 Park Lane, Carshalton, Surrey.
In 1914 Jack was working as a clerk for the Asiatic Petroleum Company in London. War was declared on the 4 August 1914 and on the 7 August Jack enlisted in the 1st (City of London) Battalion, of the 5th London Rifle Brigade. He was 18 years old and embarked from Southampton for France on the 4 November, less than three months after enlisting.
Jack was lucky – he came back. He was badly injured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – a gunshot wound to his right thigh, his left forearm and another through his lower jaw fracturing it. The 56th London Division to which the 1/5 London Rifles had been transferred was meant to be providing diversionary support at Gommecourt Wood. They found themselves instead in the thick of it.
Jack spent the next 190 days in hospital back in the England – first in Newton Abbot, Devon and then Birmingham finally returning to Dawlish in Devon before being released from hospital in January 1917.
On being released from hospital Jack spent time in the Labour Corps at Farnborough in Hampshire. It was while he was there that in December 1917 he was declared unfit for labour work in France. In May 1918 he applied and was allowed to transfer back to the 5th London Rifles as a bombing instructor in Farnborough.
On the 2 June 1918 Jack wrote: “My four years is up early next month, I never thought when I joined up that I should live to see these times, but there it is – the Devil looks after his own.”
He was finally dispersed from the army on the 12 January 1919.