Welcome to my blog......

The purpose of this blog is to remember the fallen heroes of the Great War, whose names are recorded on the memorial plaque situated in St Barnabas Church, New Whittington, Chesterfield.

To mark the centenary of World War 1 I aim to research all of the men on the memorial. I hope to ensure that the brave men who gave their lives for their country 100 years ago are remembered and each man's story told.

I would love to hear from anyone who may have information regarding the men; photos, letters or passed down memories. Any descendents are most welcome to contact me and I will provide copies of the research that I have undertaken.

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them"

For The Fallen,
Laurence Binyon September 1914.

Friday 8 December 2017



Private 204512

9th Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment

Died from wounds - 8th December 1917

Harry Alfred Letts embarkation photograph
with kind permission of Mr Letts (Harry's Grandson)

Harry Alfred Letts was born on 20th November 1879 to Alfred and Mary Jane Letts.  He wasn't a local lad to New Whittington, he was born at Cold Ashby in Northamptonshire.  He may have moved to New Whittington for his employment as a gardener, sometime between 1901 and 1903.

Cold Ashby....

Harry's parents married on 25th December 1870 at St Andrews Church in Bordesley, Warwickshire.  Alfred was a young widower, having two children; William and Betsy, their mother Ellen Rebecca Letts had died in March 1869.  

By 1881 the family had grown; Thomas, John and one year old Harry Alfred were now part of the Letts household; younger brothers for William and Betsy.  Harry's father Alfred worked as a groom and William was a gardener.  

Tragic accident....

Shields Daily Gazette, 15th November 1884

William the eldest son of Alfred was employed as a railway porter for the Midland Railway Company.  He had worked for them since August 1883 but had only worked at Hathern Station for a fortnight when the accident occurred on 14th November 1884.  The Nottingham Journal newspaper described how Alfred told the coroner that he had not seen his son since the New Year before, but that his eyesight and hearing were good.  William was said to have been carrying two lamps when he decided to cross the line rather than use the pedestrian bridge.  The next train was not due for another 12 minutes but, as William crossed the whistle was heard from the Manchester to London Express train.  Nothing could be done and although William did try to escape, this was not possible.  The tragedy was recorded in the Midland Railway Company Register of Accidents as simply "knocked down, killed by passing train".

William was buried on 19th November, the day before Harry was to celebrate his fifth birthday.  

A year later in 1885 Alfred and Mary had another son, they named him Alfred William.  Followed in 1889 by Scott, another male infant was born into the Letts family.

Family life....

In 1891 Harry was aged 11 years old and lived with his family at Thornby Road, Cold Ashby.  They lived in the centre of the village near to St Denys Church, the school house and the vicarage.  His father Alfred and brother John were both employed as agricultural labourers, his eldest brother Thomas had mastered a trade and worked as a bricklayer. 

In the summer of 1892 the final child was born, a son named Samuel Frederick.  The 1901 census find the Letts family living in the same home on Thornby Road, Alfred, John and Alfred jnr were all employed as agricultural labourers.  Harry was aged 21 was working as a domestic gardener.  Thomas Harry's elder brother had left the family home and married Susannah Chapman on 23rd December 1899.  The newlyweds lived in Leicester now and Thomas continued to work as a bricklayer.

Wedding bells....

Harry married his sweetheart Lucy Jane Fane on 2nd June 1903 at New Whittington.  Lucy was from New Whittington, the daughter of Thomas and Annie Fane.  Before her marriage Lucy had been employed as a waitress / general housemaid for a restaurant owner named John Booker.  The restaurant was situated at 3 Knifesmithsgate in Chesterfield town centre.

The couple settled down to family life in New Whittington, they lived at 33 Handley Road.  Harry worked as a gardener at The Grange, one of the large residential houses in the area.  On 24th October 1908 a son was born; named Leonard Alfred he would make the family complete.

1911 the eve of war....

Harry and Lucy continued to live at Handley Road.  Leonard was a toddler aged 2 years old.  Harry was no doubt a popular fellow in the local community; he was an active member of the Methodist Church and ran the Sunday school.  A fair distance away from his parents and siblings; Alfred, Mary and Harry's brothers John, Alfred, Scott and Samuel remained in Cold Ashby.

Thomas and Susannah had returned to the village of Cold Ashby, they now had two young brothers living with them, likely taken in and "adopted" by the couple.  The boys were Douglas Willis aged 6 and Stanley Willis aged 5 years old.  The 1911 census was completed for the young boys, with the place of birth as "unknown".  

Harry's war....

Harry was most likely reading the newspapers, he would read that in May 1915 the age limit to serve was raised from 38 to 40 years.  The National Registration Act was passed in July 1915 which deemed that on the 15th August 1915 Harry (and all men aged 15-65 and not in military service) would be required to submit their age and occupation.  He would then be given a National Registration Card to confirm he had completed his registration.

The government were concerned as after the original rush of men to enlist in 1914, the war that would be over by Christmas was still running.  By spring 1915 the volunteers had dropped, stories were being heard in the towns and villages, local men were never to return, families wept and mourned their loved ones.  The National Registration Act was pronounced to allow the government to find out exactly how many men were available for service; those who fit in with the age and employment status.  

In October 1915 Harry would be given the option to enlist voluntarily under the Derby Scheme which would allow the men to attest to serve if needed at a later date, the closing date for this voluntary act was 15th December.  Harry took this option on 10th November 1915 he signed his attestation papers for General Service.  He was given the soldier number 15995 and placed in the Army Reserve Class B.  Harry would have been paid a day's army wage and then allowed to go home and wait until he was officially called up for service.  To prove his allegiance to King & Country Harry was given a grey arm band showing the red crown, which he could wear for all to see as he went about his daily life.  His National Registration Card would also have been stamped and dated to show is attestation.

At this time Harry, Lucy and seven year old Leonard were living at 33 Handley Road, Harry worked as a gardener.  Harry was just 5ft 3 1/2" tall and weighed 9 stones.  The height limit had been dropped early on in the war in November 1914 to 5ft 3", although a temporary Bantam Battalion scheme was also used for men of heights 5ft to 5ft 3".  

The men who attested under the Derby Scheme were allocated a group number according to their age and marital status; Harry was originally placed in Group 40 (which according to his age was actually incorrect and was for slightly younger men) but later records show him in Group 42 (birth 1879).  On 13th May 1916 it was announced that Group 42 men would be called up on 13th June 1916.  Seven months after Harry had signed his papers the time had now come to serve.


Despite being called to service in the June of 1916 Harry did not mobilise until a year later on 19th May 1917.  He under took his army medical in December of 1916.  It would be likely that Harry had taken his case to the local tribunal to request exemption from service.  His reason might be his employment as he was now employed as a farmhand, he was also over 35 and married.  His involvement with the local Methodist Church might also have made Harry indispensable at home.

Off to war....

The reprieve was short, he was given a new soldier number of 204512 and soon enough Harry was embarking to join the British Expeditionary Force in France.    He arrived on 4th October 1917 and joined his unit the 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters on 11th October.  

The 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters were part of 33rd Brigade, 11th Division.  

The war diary states that "reinforcements arrive" on 11th October, the 9th Sherwood's were stationed at Tournehem undertaking training.  They were taught how to fire Lewis Guns, route march, the art of musketry and enjoyed some recreational sports like football.  They remained there until 19th October when Harry and his fellow comrades would clean and pack ready to entrain to Ames.  From here they moved via Voudricourt to Mazingarbe and on to Loos where they relieved the 7th South Staffordshire Regiment in the trenches on 22nd October.

The battalion remained in the trenches until they were relieved by the 8th Duke of Wellington Regiment on 29th October.  Most nights were spent sending out working parties; the war diary states "working parties totalling 400 O'Rs were found every night".  On 30th October the men took bus transport to Noeux-les-Mines.

The first week of November was again spent undertaking various training and recreational activities.  On 7th November the battalion prepared to move out and relieve the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers; A and C Coys on the front line, B Coy in support, D Coy in reserve.  The following days were spent alternating which Coy covered the front line, a dummy attack was carried out on 11th November.  The 7th South Staffordshire Regiment relieved the battalion on 16th November after "a quiet tour of duty in the trenches.  Casualties slight".  

They returned to Cite St Pierre where they remained until on 20th November "instructions given for battalion to take over front line".  The following day the B & C Coys moved out to the front line trenches and relieved the "boys of the 9th Staffs Regt.  8pm relief complete".

The war diary for the dates 22nd/23rd November simply states "In the line.  Situation quiet".  Harry was wounded on 22nd November 1917, he received injuries to his back, abdomen and arms.  Depending on the severity of Harry's wounds he may have been taken to an aid post which would be situated somewhere close to the front line, near to the trenches.  He would be given immediate first aid by a trained medic or first aider and then carried by the stretcher bearers to the nearest dressing station.  The next step was transfer to a casualty clearing station which would be a large medical facility away from the front line.  Had he been considered stable enough for transfer Harry might have found himself labelled for "Blighty" but sadly this was not to be and on 8th December 1917 Harry passed away as a result of his injuries.  

Harry was buried at the Noeux le Mines Communal Cemetery Extension, grave ref; iV A 23.  

The grave of Private Harry Alfred Letts
with kind permission of Mr Letts (Harry's Grandson)
Harry's grave shows the sign of the cross and the loving inscription was also added by Harry's family;


Private Harry Alfred Letts 204512 was awarded the Victory and British Medals for his service.  

Harry was remembered in the Derbyshire Times 1917.  The obituary read....

"Sympathy on all sides has been extended to the wife
of Pte. Harry Letts residing on Handley Road, 
who on the 5th (sic) inst. Died from wounds in France 
received on November 24th (sic) , the sad news
being conveyed in a letter of sympathy last week 
from the Chaplain, Rev C J Horsley-Smith.

The deceased was a popular young fellow
and much esteemed in the district, and general 
regret at his death has been expressed.  He was a member 
of the New Whittington Baptist Church, and one
of its most ardent workers, where he will be greatly missed.
Among the offices he held were those of chapel secretary 
and superintendent of the Sunday school.

He was 38 years of age and joined the Sherwood's 
on June 2nd this year, going over to France on October 1st
where he had been in just 7 weeks when he was wounded.
In private life he followed the occupation of gardener, 
to Mrs Wright of Whittington Grange.  He was also a member
of the local Volunteer Force.

At the Baptist Chapel evening service on Sunday, fitting 
reference to his death was made by the preacher.  

Writing from No 7 casualty clearing station, the Chaplain says
"It is with deep regret that I have to tell you that your husband
passed away yesterday (Dec 5th) at 2.30pm.  
I was with him when he died.  He was quite unconscious, and 
it will comfort you to know that he died very peacefully
and suffered no pain.  Please accept my sincere sympathy 
in your great sorrow.  
He died nobly and gave his life for his country"."

** note, date of death different to the official date of death.  CWGC records Private Harry Alfred Letts date of death as 8th December 1917.

Life went on....

Lucy continued to live in New Whittington, her young son Leonard grew up with her in the village.  Life would be difficult and the memory of Harry, a husband and a father would remain in their hearts forever.  Stories of Harry would be passed down to Leonard's young son, named fittingly after his heroic grandfather to ensure that his memory lives on to this day. 

Private Harry Alfred Letts possessions

In the May of 1918 Lucy received a parcel containing Harry's personal possessions; "disc, 2 pipes, coins, letters, card, pouch, razor, knife, purse, key, linen badge".  No doubt Lucy and Leonard would shed a tear on its arrival, the contents would be treasured mementos of a brave husband and father.

Happier times did eventually return for Lucy and Leonard when in 1923 Lucy married Percy Butler.  Lucy died in 1948 aged 67 years old.

Leonard Alfred Letts married Sarah Brough in 1931, he worked as a railway fireman for the London Midland & Scottish Railways.  In 1939 the family were living on Wellington Street in New Whittington. 

*I have been lucky to make contact with Leonard's son, he has kindly sent me a photograph of his grandfather Harry Alfred Letts and of the visit he and his sons made to pay their respects to Harry at his grave in France.  He told me of a memory; when he was little he was told that his grandfather Harry planted daffodil bulbs along the drive way up to Whittington Grange where he was employed as a gardener.  The daffodils still came into flower many years later.  Next year at spring time I will take a look to see if those flowers are still flowering.  A fitting memory to a gardener who's legacy continues 100 years on *

Alfred and Mary Jane Letts; Alfred died in 1915, he was never to suffer the knowledge that he lost two son's Harry and Scott to the war, both died of wounds whilst serving his King & Country.  Mary Jane may have died in 1929.  

Thomas Letts and Susannah remained the carers of Douglas and Stanley Willis.  

Thomas Scott Letts, Service Records
Thomas also saw active service during WW1.  Making use of his practical skills, Thomas enlisted on 6th June 1915 with the Royal Engineers; Sapper 103555.  His service record has survived and tells that he embarked for France on 31st December 1915.  Thomas survived the whole length of the war, being discharged on 6th March 1919.  He was awarded the British and Victory medal for his service.  

For Thomas and Susannah as for many others, the war took its toll and family life would never return to "normal" as it was before the Great War.  Thomas was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and rheumatism.  He was alive, he was living life but those ghosts of the war would never leave him.

The 1939 Register records Thomas living on Main Street, Cold Ashby along with Susannah and Douglas.  There are also two more young boys living with them; Leslie and Douglas Swaffield.  Their next door neighbours were Stanley, his wife Winifred and their three children.  

Thomas may have died in 1955 but this would need to be confirmed further.

John Letts enlisted with the 11th Battalion Essex Regiment on 16th September 1914.  He was however discharged on 1st December 1914 "having been found medically unfit for service".  His service records state that he suffered from chronic rheumatism.  

What happened to John after this date and whether John married is not known, he may have died in 1938.

Alfred William Letts appears to have remained single and may have died at the young age of 33 years in 1918.

Scott Letts enlisted with the Northamptonshire Regiment on 19th November 1915.  He was just approaching his 25th birthday and worked as a labourer at the time.  

On 9th January 1916 he was transferred to the 7th Battalion Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment, Private G/10218.

Scott was wounded and died of his wounds on 28th March 1918.  He was buried by the German army and his actual grave position is either not known or damaged after further fighting.  He is one of many soldiers to whom a "Kipling Memorial" has been erected.  This is a CWGC headstone, but his grave is not located underneath this memorial gravestone.

The headstone is located in the Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension in Picardie, France.  It has the following words inscribed..


Scott was awarded the British War and Victory medal for his service, his mother Mary signed receipt of these medals in 1921.

Samuel Letts married Annie Underwood in 1919.  The couple may have three daughters; Gladys, Vera and Mary.  

In 1939 Samuel was employed as a road man for the County Council.  The couple lived at Church Lane in Brixworth, Northamptonshire with their daughter Mary and a man named Harry Underwood, whether he was Annie's son or a family member is not known.   There was also another child living with the family at this time; 13 year old John Law.

Samuel died in 1973 at the age of 81 years old.

Betsy Letts Harry's half-sister married John Smalley a shoe finisher in 1893.  The couple lived in Anstey, Leicestershire.  They had two children; Alfred William and Fanny Elizabeth. Betsy died in 1933.


Cold Ashby Memorial Plaque, to Harry & Scott Letts
with kind permission of John @Cold Ashby Rambler

In Cold Ashby the Letts family were remembered on the war memorials they later erected to honour the men who both fell and served during WW1 and WW2.

Harry and Scott Letts are inscribed on a memorial plaque which can be found over the main entrance of the memorial hall.  It reads..


WW1 memorial 
WW2 memorial
The Letts men are also remembered on the 
Cold Ashby Memorial 
to those who served during WW1 

and WW2.

Photos with kind permission of John
@ Cold Ashby Rambler


Special thanks to Mr H Letts for the written details,
photographs and documents he
provided for use in this remembrance
of Private Harry Letts.


If you may be connected to this family or have any further information on Harry Alfred Letts or his family please do either leave comments via the pen icon below or drop me an email.

I hope that I have not given details of living persons, if so please advise and I will remove immediately.

Please note all information has been taken from online indexes and sources.  Due to the sheer numbers of people to be researched I am unable to purchase vital event certificates to confirm my research.


Thanks to John @Cold Ashby Rambler

With thanks also to members of the WW1 Forum who gave me advice.


Ref and further reading  -
Parish registers
Medal rolls
Soldiers who died in the Great war
Register of soldiers effects
Service record - www.ancestry.co.uk
Railway employment records; Midland Railway accidents 1875-1888 - www.ancestry.co.uk

Newspaper articles - 
                               - Derbyshire Times 1917
                               - Shields Daily Gazette 15th November 1884
                               - Nottigham Journal 17th November 1884 page 5

1 comment:

  1. I am a British Legion member and read Harry Letts name out at Church every Remembrance Sunday.
    We knew Samuel, Douglas ,Stan and there was also Scottie Letts who kept the Bull Inn, probably no relation.
    You mention Leslie and Douglas Swaffield, we new the latter as Donald they were evacuees as was John Law. Leslie was our Brother in Law married to my wife's sister.
    Samuel and Annie lived in Church lane Cold Ashby not Brixworth as in 1961 the house was modernised and it became our first home, they moved to Main Street Cold Ashby. We new their daughters Mary and Gladys who are now deceased , not sure of Vera.
    In 1919/20 Cold Ashby village raised money to build a Memorial Hall ,it was opened on October 24th 1920. It was built by my wife's father Augustus Bott and Thomas Letts, Harry's brother, probably voluntarily.