Private Edward Ambrose, from Hertfordshire, was killed on the Somme, just days he arrived at the front in 1916. After a telegram telling of his death, his last belongings were sent back from the trenches to his heartbroken parents. But the family left the case unopened, finding its contents too painful to look at, and it was placed in an attic for years. After visiting a local historical exhibition, Private Ambrose’s nephew has now opened the package for the first time. The case includes black and white photos of his family, letters from his parents, a half-smoked pipe and cigarettes. The items, including a locket with photos of Private Ambrose and his sweetheart, Gladys, will go display later this year Paralysed by grief, Sarah Ambrose could not bear to look at her son’s belongings after he was killed at the Battle of the Somme.
So 18-year-old Edward Ambrose’s possessions were packed in a leather suitcase and stored away in the attic of the family home.
And there they stayed for more than 90 years – until curiosity finally got the better of Edward’s nephew John, 82, who retrieved the case after reading about an appeal for untold stories for a First World War exhibition.
Opening it, he was confronted with a poignant collection of letters and photographs alongside a locket with a picture of fresh-faced Edward on one side and his sweetheart Gladys on the other.
The locket Private Ambrose gave to Gladys contained the inscription ‘Mizpah’, meaning emotional bond, and the message: ‘The Lord watch between me and thee when we are absent from one another’.
There were also Army issue booklets, posthumously awarded campaign medals and everyday paraphernalia, including cigarette papers and even a pipe with tobacco still in it.
Private Ambrose’s half-smoked pipe. His grieving parents found it too difficult to open the case of his personal belongings and put it into storage, where it has remained for 98 years.
Incredibly, the case also contained two fragments of the German shell that inflicted the fatal wounds on Private Ambrose shortly after he went to the front in July 1916.
Amazingly, Private Ambrose’s nephew, John, also found two fragments of the German shell which killed his uncle in the Battle of the Somme on July 6, 1916. Records show in was struck in the leg by a shell when his line came under heavy bombardment.
Also in the time capsule was a guide book to Paris, which the young soldier never got the chance to visit, and a phrase book titled ‘What a British soldier wants to say in French and how to pronounce it’.
There was also a letter which his father Samuel, a farm bailiff from Wallington, near Baldock, Hertfordshire, wrote to his son on the eve of him going to France in February 1916.
It said: ‘We will all pray to God for you and for your safe return home again. Take care of this letter and read it sometimes and then you won’t forget what I have asked of you. Your loving dad, S Ambrose.’ From Father To Soldier Son
In a letter from Samuel Ambrose to his son before he went off to war, the father wrote: ‘Dear son, just a few lines to you trusting they will find you quite well and in the best of health.
‘No doubt you will think it strange to get a letter from dad but I thought I must just write you a few lines before you sail away from home.
‘I remind you that you are quite young so therefore you must try and take great care of yourself and don’t forget to ask your heavenly father to help you.
‘We will all pray to God for you and for your safe return home again when the war is ended and trust in him that it may soon be finished with and lasting peace so that we all live happily again.
‘Take great care of this letter and read it sometimes and then you won’t forget to do what I have asked of you.
‘Let us know as often as you can how you are getting along and if there is anything that you want if we can.
‘I think this is all so with all our best love from one and all to you and heaps of kisses, your loving dad S Ambrose.’ Private Ambrose, the eldest of six children, joined the 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment in 1915. After going to France, he spent two spells in hospital with German measles then tinnitus and shell shock, his service record shows.
Among the photos in the case is one of Private Ambrose, third from the right, stood outside his home near Baldock, Hertforshire with three of his fellow soldiers and his father, Samuel, right.