WW1 Hertfordshire soldier's 'poignant time capsule' opened

  • Published
Media caption,

The possessions include a half-smoked pipe and 10 hand-rolled cigarettes

World War One artefacts "too painful" for a mother to face after the death of her 18-year-old son, have been donated to an exhibition in Hertfordshire.

Pte Edward "Ted" Ambrose died, aged 18, just days after arriving on the Somme in 1916. His belongings were sent home to his mother.

But the case containing his letters, a pipe, and his sweetheart's locket remained largely sealed.

They have now been donated to the Herts at War exhibition.

Project officer Dan Hill said it was "a fascinating and poignant time capsule".

Pte Ambrose, from Wallington, near Baldock, served with the 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

Image source, Herts at war
Image caption,
Pte Ambrose's half-smoked pipe and tobacco wallet were among items returned to his parents

He received shrapnel wounds to his head and leg on 6 July, 1916, and died at a military hospital in France a week later.

His nephew John, 82, from Letchworth, asked Mr Hill to examine the contents of the case after finding it in the attic.

"It had never been opened by Ted's mother after he died because she simply found it too painful," Mr Hill said.

Image source, Herts at war
Image caption,
A locket contained a photograph of Pte Ambrose and his sweetheart Gladys

Although a few items, including his posthumous medals, had been added shortly after Pte Ambrose died, no-one had really looked at the contents until the Herts at War group began asking for memories and artefacts for their Great War Commemoration exhibition.

Among the items Mr Hill discovered were Pte Ambrose's family letters and photographs, and a locket containing a picture of the young soldier and his girlfriend, Gladys, together with a lock of her hair.

There were also army booklets, a French phrasebook, his pipe, cigarettes, regiment badges, and fragments of what is thought to be the shrapnel that ultimately killed him.

Image source, Herts at war
Image caption,
Pieces of shrapnel rest on top of Pte Ambrose's leather wallet

"We've been able to piece together what happened using contemporary documents," Mr Hill said.

"What's particularly sad is that when she found out he was wounded, Ted's mother wrote to the War Office asking to visit him.

"They refused, saying he was dangerously ill, but it seems that telegram was not sent until the day after he died."

Pte Ambrose was sent to various medical units before ending up in hospital in Etaples.

"That was usually the last stop before recuperating soldiers were shipped back home, so we assume the doctors were getting ready to discharge him," Mr Hill said.

"Sadly, Ted never made it across the Channel and back to his mother."

The items from Pte Ambrose's "time capsule" and the stories of thousands of other military personnel from Hertfordshire who fought during World War One will be on show across the county from August.

Image source, Herts at war
Image caption,
Mrs Ambrose asked to visit her son in France but was told he was "dangerously ill"

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