I brought along part of my First World War collection for the History Makers students to quiz me about. I became interested in collecting memorabilia because of my grandpa. When I was a child my granny had a photograph of him in uniform on her mantelpiece. He didn’t serve in WWI, but he was an army chaplain in the Second World War and received several medals for bravery and for rescuing the wounded. That kindled my interest in military history in general and the First and Second World Wars in particular. When I first got interested, there were still WWI veterans around you could interview. I think it was that tangible aspect, that you still had people you could speak to first hand, that really captured my imagination. I went on to study military history at university and have been collecting various items ever since, as the opportunity arises. I’ve been across to the old battlefields in France and Belgium several times. Every year without fail local farmers plough up metalwork, shells, guns, bullets, all sorts of stuff. They call it the ‘iron harvest’. Historically it’s fascinating to someone like myself. Of course, bomb disposal experts come in and take away anything deemed dangerous, but there are usually so many rusty artefacts that, having heaped as much as possible up in the corner of the fields, much is just left scattered across the earth.

Tom Thorne43A fortunate find

I feel absolutely privileged and honoured to be able to have this, what might initially appear to be just an old piece of paper. My uncle found it in the 1970s and he actually had it framed and kept safe for many years after that. It wasn’t until the 1990s when he knew that I had an interest in the army and the military that he actually passed it on to me for safekeeping for the future. This is how he came to find it.

My uncle lives in Oxford and in the 1970s he bought a house. When the house sale had gone through and he moved in, there was a skip on the front drive. The previous owner had served during the First World War as a signaler. After he died all of his belongings had been put into this skip. As my uncle walked up the drive, he noticed a flap of paper just drifting in the wind on top of the other rubbish. It caught his eye, so he pulled it off the skip and it was this communiqué. It was just lying there, ready to be thrown away. It was an amazing find. If my uncle hadn’t been there at that moment it might well have gone to the tip and been lost forever.

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