Sunday, October 18, 2015

Reverend Thomas Harry Lee Jellicoe, Royal Navy

Thomas Harry Lee Jellicoe was born in Bangalore, India around 1861.  He does not appear on the 1871 census of England and Wales (presumably because he was still in India) but by 1881 he was in England.  He was a cousin of First Earl Jellicoe (Admiral Jellicoe, Commander in Chief of the British Grand Fleet who would lead the British Navy at the Battle of Jutland). 

He appears on the census return for St Austell, Cornwall where he is noted as a 20 year old unmarried boarder staying at the home of Thomas J Bennett vicar of Treverbryn.  Jellicoe appears as “Harry” rather than Thomas Harry Lee and the address is given not as the vicarage or rectory but rather the “Treverbryn Board School for boys and girls”.  There are however, no pupils listed apart from Harry; just Reverend Bennett, his wife and son and four servants. 

By 1882, according to Crockford’s Clerical Directory, Thomas was at the Canonry School, Truro and by 1884 he was a deacon and occupying the position of curate at St Wenn, Cornwall.  In 1886 he was made a priest while still at St Wenn.  Between 1886 and 1889 he was curate at Devoran church, Cornwall.  Interestingly, he initiated a parish magazine there in 1888, a vehicle for communication that he would later put to good use when he moved to Chailey. 

In 1889 he moved from Cornwall to Sussex.  He is listed in Crockford’s as Asst. Miss. Dio. Chichester which possibly means Assistant Missionary Diocesan of Chichester.  He remained in this post until 1894 and at the time the 1891 census was taken he was in Worth, Sussex and visiting the vicarage there; the home of William Witham.  Sixty seven year old William and 30 year old Thomas (whose name this time is entered in full), are both noted as “Clerk in Holy Orders”.

Thomas Jellicoe took up the post of Rector of St Peter’s Church Chailey in 1894.  Henry Matravers had joined as curate one year earlier and would remain in that post until February 1942. 

At some stage, presumably after he arrived in Chailey, Thomas married Bethia Theodora Boyd, the daughter of Sir John Boyd of Maxpoffle, Roxburgh, Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1888 to 1891.  Bethia’s brother, Arthur Hamilton Boyd, would later distinguish himself during the First World War – and receive monthly mentions in the parish magazine from his brother-in-law. 

On 5th February 1899, the couple’s first child was born – John Basil Lee Jellicoe – and in 1903 they were presented with a second son – Christopher Theodore Jellicoe.  Both boys would serve their King and Country during the First World War and Christopher would be highly decorated whilst serving with the Royal Navy during the Second World War. 

I am surmising that Reverend Jellicoe launched the parish magazine in Chailey.  If he didn’t, he certainly made it his own.  Actually, although I refer to the publication as a magazine throughout this website, it was in effect a newsletter; a few pages stapled together conveying news of births, marriages and deaths as well as community events and words of comfort or exhortation from the vicar.  It is entirely due to Reverend Jellicoe’s fastidiousness during the First World War that we have such a detailed picture of the local war effort. 

In August 1914, he began his address in the magazine on a sombre note: 

There are times when we are made to see with appalling reality the littleness of our personal concerns… the one certain thing is that if Austria goes beyond a certain point in her attack upon Servia, Russia must and will intervene.  That means an invasion of Galicia by Russia, with Roumania most probably attacking next door.  That means Germany compelled, not only by Treaty, but in self-defence, to take up arms for Austria; and the first stroke in the defence of Austria by Germany must of course be an attack upon France. At this point England cannot stand alone.  She, too, must come into the dread conflict. 

By the following month, Germany’s march through Belgium had propelled Britain into war and now the Reverend was supporting Kitchener’s call for more men: 

In addition to the Dominion contingents there are two directions in which the necessary supply can be sought, one is a large reserve of men who are eager to serve, but are debarred by the age limit of 30 years.  The other source is of a different character.  It is the vast herds of young men who might go, but prefer to loaf at home, attending cricket matches or going to the cinema – in short the great army of shirkers.  It is a national scandal that the selfish should get off scot free, while all the burden falls on the most public spirited section of our available manhood; and if the voluntary system can do no better it will have to be changed. 

The following month, October 1914, Jellicoe published his first “Provisional list of Officers and Men connected with this Parish now serving their King and Country.”  It was a list he would refresh and publish monthly for close to the next five years.  Bethea Jellicoe was also far from idle.  She was in charge of the knitting fund for soldiers and sailors – keeping a tally of subscriptions with which to buy wool and managing both the fund’s accounts and the 80 (in November 1914) volunteer knitters who had come forward. 

Although Thomas Jellicoe comes across at times as a typical thundering, “fire and brimstone” type preacher in the Victorian tradition, he was obviously passionate about his community, his country and in rising to the challenge to defeat Germany.  He was also not without humour.  In March 1915 he writes:

In spite of all German warnings, accompanied with the characteristic roilling of the eyes and wagging of the forefinger threatening “frightfulness”, nothing more serious happened in Chailey on February 18th than the visit of the Diocesan Inspector… 

The same month he arranged for a copy of the Parish Magazine to be sent to all Chailey men serving abroad.  The letter (published in the magazine) was signed by T H L Jellicoe (Rector) and H H Matravers (Assistant Priest).  They wrote:

… it is just this sympathy that prompts us as your Parish priests, to tell you something of what is in our own hearts for you and what we have been trying to do from the first day War was declared… We know that you are ready, if need be, to give yourself even to the sacrifice of your life, for love of your Home, your Country and your King.  “Greater love hath no man than this, That a man lay down his life for his friends”.  We know that you have already sacrificed much and sacrificed it gladly.  You have eagerly pressed into the service which calls you on land and sea.  And you have done it all simply, sincerely, whole-heartedly.  That was brave.  That was good… 

The letter appears to have been addressed as much to the “shirkers” as to the serving men. 

On 11th June 1917, the Reverend and Mrs Jellicoe were both mentioned in The Times although the focus was very much on Mrs Jellicoe: 


Mr Best, a cab proprietor of Chailey, Sussex, having joined the Army, Mrs Jellicoe, wife of the Reverend Thomas Harry Lee Jellicoe, rector of Chailey, and cousin of Admiral Jellicoe, has volunteered to act as driver for Mrs Best while her husband is away. One of her first “fares” was Mrs Coplestone [sic], wife of the late Bishop of Calcutta [and mother of Reginald Trench Copleston]. 

According to Edwin Mathias in his locally published, “Chailey Through The Centuries” (1996), Reverend Jellicoe had tried to become an Army Chaplain in 1917 but was unsuccessful.  In January 1918 however, his luck changed and the February edition of the Parish Magazine, carries an open letter from him to his “dear friends”: 

For a long time I have felt that I ought to be taking part directly in the activities of these stirring times.  The need is more urgent now than ever and we are called upon, as you will readily agree, to make sacrifices to further the special calls to service that come to some of us. 

I have accepted a Chaplaincy on H M Hospital Ship, “St Margaret of Scotland” stationed in the Mediterranean, and I am commanded to be in readiness to repair to it on Jan 28th.  I am severing myself for the time from much that is very dear to me… 
The Reverend F W Lewis assumed Jellicoe’s Sunday duties while Henry Matravers was charged to “be at hand to meet the needs of the parish so far as he can.”  There had also been an offer of assistance from Bishop Copleston form May onwards.  The Bishop, whose son Reginald Trench Copleston was numbered on the monthly roll call of local serving men, had been ministering in Ceylon and India between 1875 and 1913 and it seems likely that he was an old colleague of either Thomas Jellicoe or his father. 

In March 1918, Henry Matravers writes: 

The Rector desires me to say that he was exceedingly touched by the large number of Communicants at the special celebration of Holy Communion the week before he left.  The thought of his people’s prayers and good wishes has been of the greatest possible comfort and encouragements to him in going to his new sphere of work. 

I have been unable to locate surviving military papers for Thomas Jellicoe, however we can get some idea of his work from the communications published in the parish magazine.  In September 1918 he writes: 

I am much concerned that I have not had time to write to so many of our people.  The days here never seem long enough for what has to be done.  I am now not only just chaplain of this ship.  There has been new organisation which was necessary, and that involves my going to other ships and some shore work too at certain times.  However I keep most well and tackle everything I am called upon to do. 

In April 1919, the annual Vestry Meeting was held where: 

A letter from the Rector was read to the meeting by Mrs Jellicoe, expressing surprise that his demobilisation had not yet been effected and trusting that this would shortly be accomplished.

In June 1919, there was happier news to report: 

The evening of Tuesday May 27th was a very happy time for all of us in Chailey for our Rector, after sixteen months’ service abroad, was home again.  To mark this glad home-coming the bells of the old Parish church rang out their joyous greeting, while our picturesque village green was gay with flags in honour of this joyous event.  Most of us felt we wished to welcome him in person and accordingly from the station to the Rectory there were many to cheer him as he passed.  It must have been a wonderful change for the Rector to look once more over the peaceful meadows surrounding his home after living for so long amid the mine-infested waters of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and as a Parish we offer thanks to Almighty God for his safe return.  The record of foreign service he has just completed in such historic places as Malta, Mudros, Salonica, Sebastopal and Constantinople during the Great War of 1914-1918 will add another page to the history of those Rectors of Chailey who have served their King and Country in the hour of national need. 

Apart from his stint as temporary chaplain with the Royal Navy (the dates noted in Crockford’s as 1917-1919), Thomas Jellicoe remained at Chailey for 28 years.  He left in 1924 and moved to Ferring, Sussex where he was the vicar there until 1926. 

In 1932, the date that Crockford’s published this particular volume, Thomas Jellicoe was living at 16 St James Road, Littlehampton, Sussex.

The photo at the top of this post shows Thomas Jellicoe outside Chailey Moat (foreground) with servants in the background, and dates to around 1900.

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