Poppy Charles Gordon JELF (1886–1915) Poppy

Gordon Jelfs

Charles Gordon Jelf (aways known as Gordon) was born in Rochester, Kent on 8 June 1886, the son of George Edward Jelf (born in Berlin as a British subject on 29 January 1834) and his second wife Katharine Frances Dalton (born in Lambeth in c.1850, the daughter of the Revd. C. B. Dalton).

Gordon’s father George Edward Jelf, who was the son of the Principal of King’s College, London, married his first wife, Fanny Crawley, in the Edmonton registration district in the second quarter of 1861, and they had the following children:

  • Two daughters who died in infancy
  • George Edward Jelf (born at Clapton in early 1865, registered Hackney second quarter)
  • George’s twin Fanny Jelf (died shortly after birth).

Fanny Jelf, the first wife of Gordon's father, died in the third quarter of 1865 in the Hackney registration district, and George was a widower for nine years. During this period he was the first Vicar of Blackmoor (near Selbourne, Hampshire) from 1869 to 1874. The 1871 census shows him living at Blackmoor Vicarage with his sister-in-law Miss Caroline Crawley (42), his son George (6), and six servants.

Gordon's father married his second wife, Katharine Frances Dalton, in the first quarter of 1876 in the Edmonton registration district. They had seven children, including Gordon himself:

  • Arthur Selbourne Jelf (born in Saffron Walden on 10 October 1876)
  • Dorothy Frances Emmy Jelf (born in Saffron Walden in 1878, registered fourth quarter)
  • Frederica Mary Jelf (born in Saffron Walden in 1881, registered second quarter)
  • Inez Katherine Jelf (born in Saffron Walden in 1882, registered fourth quarter)
  • Philip Wordsworth M. Jelf (born in Rochester in 1884, registered fourth quarter)
  • Charles Gordon Jelf (born in Rochester on 8 June 1886)
  • Meriel Edith Jelf (born in Rochester in 1890, registered second quarter, wrongly transcribed as Muriel).

Gordon’s father, the Revd George Edward Jelf, D.D., was Canon Residentiary of Rochester from 1880 to 1907. He was also Vicar of Saffron Walden from 1874 to 1882, and at the time of the 1881 census was living in the vicarage there with his wife and their first three children (plus four domestic servants, and a monthly nurse to help with the youngest child, who was newborn). His only surviving child from his first marriage, George Edward Jelf, was boarding at Haileybury School at the time of the census.

From 1883 to 1889 Gordon’s father was Rector of Chatham.

At the time of the 1891 census all seven children (including Gordon, aged 4) were at home with their parents in the precincts of Rochester Cathedral. Gordon’s widowed grandfather, Charles B. Dalton, the Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral, was living with them, and they had five servants (a nurse, cook, housemaid, nursemaid, and a page).

From 1896 to 1897 Gordon’s father was Rector of Wiggonholt, and from 1897 to 1904 the incumbent of St Germans, Blackheath.

Gordon attended Felsted Preparatory School and then The Grange in Folkestone, before going up to Marlborough College. At the time of the 1901 census, when he was 14, he was boarding at Marlborough College, while his older brother Philip (16) was at Haileybury. His parents and sisters (plus four servants) were now living in their London parish, at 9 St German’s Place, Charlton & Kidbrooke.

Gordon won an open scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford in 1905 and gained his BA degree in 1909 with a Second Class in both Moderations and Literae Humaniores.

Gordon’s father George Edward Jelf died at the age of 74 in the fourth quarter of 1908 in the Holborn registration district.

In 1909 Gordon was attached to the Department of Antiquities in Egypt for seven months, and the next year was appointed an Assistant Master of Classics at Fonthill School, a private preparatory school for boys in East Grinstead. He was living on his own at Saint Hill, East Grinstead at the time of the 1911 census, aged 24.

In about 1909 Gordon’s widowed mother came to live at 34 Norham Road, Oxford, where she can be seen in the 1911 census with her three unmarried daughters Dorothy (32), Inez (28), and Meriel (20). They now had only three servants (a housemaid, cook, and parlourmaid). In the second quarter of 1911 Inez married Edward Bickersteth in Oxford.

In August 1911, after a few months’ study of German, Gordon joined the staff of The Times, and was assistant correspondent in Berlin until the outbreak of war. His family had German relations: his grandfather Dr R. W. Jelf (who had been tutor to George, the future King of Hanover) had married Countess Emmy Schippenbach.

In about 1913 Mrs Jelf moved to 80 Woodstock Road in St Margaret’s parish.

Gordon Jelf volunteered to serve very near the beginning of the First World War, commencing service on 27 October 1914. He spent nine weeks in the Public Schools Battalion of Royal Fusiliers, and then applied for a commission to a Kentish Regiment. His letters show how keen he was to fight: one on 21 May 1915 to his mother stated, “It has been definitely decided now that I am to go over the top with the Battalion, and I was overjoyed when W. told me the great news. Indeed, I wouldn’t be out of it for worlds.”

Jelfs's grave


Poppy Jelf served as a Second Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).

Jelf was mentioned in despatches while serving in France and was killed in action near Loos (between Vermelles and Hulloch) at the age of 29 on 13 October 1915. He is buried at the Vermelles British Cemetery (I.E.12).

Left: Photograph of C. G. Jelf’s grave in France, kindly supplied by British War Graves. The text reads:

[Emblem of the Buffs]



This is one of the 40% of war graves that bears a personal message at the end (for which the family had to pay 3½d per letter).

Jelf on Felsted war memorial

Jelf is remembered on the war memorial outside St Margaret’s Church in north Oxford; on the Felsted School Roll of Honour (right); on a memorial plaque in Rochester Cathedral; and on a brass plaque in Exeter College (below):

Jelf remembered in Exeter College

The following short obituary appeared in The Times of 19 October 1915:

   We deeply regret to record the death in action of another member of the editorial staff of The Times, Second Lieutenant Charles Gordon Jelf, of the 6th East Kent Regiment (The Buffs).
   Mr Jelf, who fell on October 13, was the youngest son of the Rev. Dr. Jelf, late Master of the Charterhouse, and of Mrs Jelf, Bushley, Oxford, and was 29 years of age. He was educated at Marlborough and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was a scholar, and took his degree in 1909. Before the war he was assistant correspondent of The Times in Berlin.

The following comment was added in The Times of 26 October 1915:

Lady Teynham, whose husband commands a company of the 6th East Kent Regiment, writes of the late Second Lieutenant Jelf:— “I am sure you will like to know how much Lord Teynham appreciated him. Several times in his letters he has said that he has been much helped by having two splendid subalterns, of whom Mr. Jelf was one. In my husband’s last letter received a few days ago, he writes, “I have lost a very dear young subaltern, who was killed by my side.”

Gordon Jelf’s letters from France were privately published as a book soon after his death. On 10 August 1915 he wrote:

Dear old England! she will be better and stronger than ever, the good old land. We must pay our price – we here in lives and wounds – and you all, I’m afraid, in sorrow and straitened means. But we are only temporary tenants of England – just one generation, holding her for the next hundred years, or more, and earning the gratitude of our grandchildren and their families’ families. As Kipling said – ‘Who dies if England live?’ We can’t be English without paying coin for it, can we?

And on 11 October 1915, two days before his death:

The shelling is now absolutely continuous; but the trenches here are splendid against it, and all day south of us there have been tremendous bombardments. The bombardment inflicted on us which I mentioned is said by the artillery to have been the worst the Germans have yet given the British. If that is the case, we don’t mind a bit, therefore so much for that.

Administration (with Will) was granted in London to Gordon’s widowed mother, Katharine Frances Jelf, on 5 February 1916. He left £136 8s. 4d.

St Margaret's Church War Memorial

After the War

Gordon’s widowed mother
  • Mrs Katharine Frances Jelf moved away from 80 Woodstock Road very soon after her son’s death in 1915. She was living at Squerryes Lodge, Westerham, near Sevenoaks after the war, and she died at the age of 83 in the fourth quarter of 1933 in the Sevenoaks registration district.
Gordon’s sisters
  • Frederica Mary Jelf (born 1881) was married in the Medway registration district in the second quarter of 1907.
  • Meriel Edith Jelf (born 1890) married Captain Ralph Chevenix-Trench of the Royal Engineers at St Margaret’s Church on 2 December 1916.
Gordon’s brother
  • Arthur Selbourne Jelf (born 1876) served in the Malayan Civil Service from 1899 to 1925, and was seconded for Military Service (Intelligence) from 1917 to 1919. He married Blanche Connell at St George’s, Hanover Square in the first quarter of 1908, and their son Hector Gordon Jelf (born on 6 May 1917) was baptised at St Margaret’s Church on 20 June 1917: their address was given in the register as Perak, Federated Malay States. Blanche died later that year, and Arthur then married Evelyn Mary Hardcastle, and they had two sons and one daughter. Arthur Jelf was knighted in 1932, and served as Mayor of Hythe for 1938/9. He died on 26 February 1947. See his entry in Who Was Who.

See also

  • CWGC: JELF, Charles Gordon
  • Who Was Who: entry on Gordon’s father, JELF, Rev. George Edward, DD
  • Charles Gordon Jelf, Charles Gordon Jelf: Letters, with an introduction and a portrait (1915). It is out of print (see current Amazon status), but is available in the Bodleian Library (22281 e.1869).
  • Wikipedia: Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment)

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