As November 11 is Armistice Day, I thought I’d share the story of just one soldier of the 11 million other military personnel who perished in the First World War.
For it was on a cold and very rainy day that I found myself in the shadow of the magnificent Tower of London, for although I had been determined to see the display of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red in the tower moat since it had begun – my visit as the Friday after Armistice Day and although many of the ceramic poppies had been removed; the sight that remained was still a very humbling experience.
As I watched the volunteers plucking the ceramic poppies from the muddy ground and then placing them in their cardboard nest, I recalled my feelings of disappointment that I had been unable to buy one of the poppies.
Many moments passed in the chill of the November air looking at this sea of poppies and as I thought about what a glorious sight 888,246 of them must have looked like; I knew that one of these ceramic tributes had been created in honour of Wilfred Jowitt who gave his ‘Today’ 100 years ago on November 29 1917 at the tender age of 21 while on active service in France.
When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today…
My interest in Wilf began many years ago with the gift of the ‘Loving Cards’ that he had sent to my great-grandmother Ellen Edeson during the war which she had secretly cherished until her death over fifty years later and I’ve been researching the life of this young man since.
Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.
John Maxwell Edmonds
Born in Warmfield-cum-Heath, West Yorkshire in 1896, he was the eldest child and only son of Ernest Jowitt, a coal miner and his childhood was spent in a little house in Frobisher Row which has long since disappeared.
He was introduced to Ellen through his sister Dorothy while working at Rowntrees, the famous chocolate factory in York and their courtship began in earnest; however at the onset the war in 1914, Wilf enlisted as Private 242067 in the Prince of Wales North Staffordshire Regiment and was stationed at Normanton.
He returned home from his first tour of duty in 1916, safe from harm and delighted to be reunited with his beloved Ellen and before his second tour of duty began in early 1917 he begged Ellen for her hand in marriage and having refused him, her lasting memory was of Wilf was of him “crying like a baby” as he prepared for a return to the front line.
While stationed in France, he was to pen several ‘Loving Cards’ to Ellen with his honest sentiments expressed in his neatest handwriting that always included lots of kisses.
His final ‘Loving Card’ was dated September 1917.
Wilf died on Thursday November 29 1917 as a casualty of war and although he has no known grave, he is remembered with honour at the Cambrai Memorial in Louverval and his name appears on the War Memorial of Warmfield-cum-Heath in Wakefield.
His ‘Loving cards’ are all that now remain of a young life cut tragically short and after Ellen’s death they were discovered by my grandmother who kept them until they were gifted to me some thirty years later.
It would have been wonderful to have received the poppy that had been lovingly created in memory of Wilf as a lasting tribute to the sacrifice he had freely borne at such a tender age; alas it was not to be…