CAPTAIN WILLIAM BOYD JACK MC
ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS
11TH OCTOBER 1918 AGE 38
BURIED: FRESNOY-LE-GRAND COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION , FRANCE
The 5th Leicestershire Regiment's war diary for Friday 11 October 1918 covers almost three pages whereas at some points in the war one page would have done for at least five days.
Starting at Zero hour - 05.30 - the passing hours and in some cases half hours chart the ebb and flow of the fighting. At 10.45 the Germans retook Retheuil Farm and at 11.00, "covering his advance with very heavy machine gun fire", they retook the Chateau they had lost an hour earlier. It was also at 11.00 that "The MO Capt WB Jack RAMC [was] killed while attending the wounded with great courage".
Captain Jack had gone out to attend to a machine-gunned stretcher bearer when he was hit himself. For a little while it was too dangerous for anyone to go out to him but when the German fire slackened he was brought. He died a few hours later.
William Boyd Jack was born and educated in Scotland but in 1911 was practicing medicine in Kendal, Westmorland. Married and with three children, he joined up in March 1917, spent six months with the 1/3 North Midland Field Ambulance before being appointed Medical Officer to the 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. He was with them for the last year of the war, throughout all the fierce fighting around the St Quentin Canal where he was awarded a Military Cross for his actions at Pontruet on 24 September 1918.
Mrs WB Jack chose his inscription. It comes from verse three of Robert Browning's Epilogue to his final volume of poetry, Asolando, which was published on the day Browning died:
One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.
It is generally thought that Browning summarised own attitude to life in this verse: how adversity never defeated him, how he always believed that whatever happened was for the right, and that at the end of our lives on earth we would awake to a new life in heaven. It's a very positive inscription but I look at verse one and wonder how positive Mrs Jack felt:
At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,
When you set your fancies free,
Will they pass to where - by death, fools think, imprisoned -
Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
- Pity me?