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Forces War Records Blog

THE LETTERS THAT HELP THE MEMORY OF A WWI SOLDIER LIVE ON...

Blogger: GemSen Sadly, Private Thomas Preston never received the final letter from his sister, sent during the First World War, nor did he get to smoke one of the three cigarettes that it came with… The 19-year-old lost his life during the Third Battle of Ypres, on September 26, 1917 — this last message of a long correspondence was ‘returned to sender’. The discovered letters now helps to keep the fallen soldier’s memory and experiences of war alive and a recent article about the letters was recently published in the Winsford Guardian. According to a report from the paper, Thomas, of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, was killed when a shell exploded in the trench he was in as his platoon waited to advance against German lines at Polygon Wood, Belgium.

Passchendaele Tom was killed on the first day of a battle that formed the second phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Passchendaele, or just  Passchendaele. The conflict began with a British push, alongside Australian soldiers, against the German lines on September 26, 1917. Much of Polygon Wood itself has been obliterated by huge quantities of shellfire, turning the land between Menin Road and the woodland into a wasteland, pitted with blast craters. The battle ended with Allied victory, but cost 15,375 British and 5,770 Australian casualties. The extent of German deaths are unknown. Keeping the memory alive Private Tom Preston was Gary Noden’s Great Uncle and Gary was the one who uncovered the collection of letters and old cigarettes in a trunk full of his late Aunt’s possessions. “In those days, cigarettes came in a packet of three, so she’d just put them in for him,” Gary told the local newspaper. “But he was killed in action and it never got to him. It was put in a returned post envelope. Inside are three Woodbines that have stained the paper.” Tom was one of three brothers Fred, Bill and Tom who served their country. “They all went off to war in 1916. Tom joined up in the Cheshire regiment but after a short length of time they transferred him to the kinds own Lancaster.” “Bill and Fred were in the Royal Artillery. Tom was a very big letter writer. He wrote loads, all to his sister – my grandmother Beatrice Noden. Found with the letters was a cotton map of the front lines in France and Belgium to show troops where they would be located. General issue wellbeing cards were also discovered and exactly a week before Tom’s death Beatrice received one indicating that he was OK. Soldiers used the wellbeing card to indicate their health by scribbling out whichever of the multiple-choice statements weren’t applicable to them. Beatrice, in the final correspondence to her brother poignantly writes: ‘Never mind, it might not be long before you come back. Love and the best of luck from your ever loving sister.’ Beatrice died in 1923, while giving birth to Gary’s dad - Thomas Preston Noden, named after Tom. The very emotive letters are now to be included in a new book by Antiques Roadshow presenter, Paul Atterbury, which will be released to coincide with 100th anniversary of the outbreak of  WWI in 2014. Gary is glad Tom’s legacy will now be widely known and said: “It’s great. I’m really happy because now it doesn’t get left in a box now. It gets shared with other people who can relate to it. People can know about him, about what a brave guy he was.” “It’s hard to read them because you get that upset,” said Gary, 64. “They talk about how bad it was in the trenches and what they’ve been doing – going on marches all day and what it’s like at the front. Gary is now hoping to track down surviving members of the Preston family in order to locate Tom’s medals and death penny – the circular disc given to the deceased’s next of kin. Here at Forces War Records we are constantly receiving war diaries, letters and personal accounts of war — you can read some of them free of charge via the site — maybe you'll gain some insight into what life may have been like for your ancestors during wartime. Source: Winsford Guardian

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