By Lucy Clapham
Thursday, October 4, 2012
HE WAS among the hundreds of thousands of men who fought for King and country in one of the bloodiest battles in modern history - but his heroism during the first world war had remained something of a mystery to his family.
It was not until a two page letter, written by Great Yarmouth soldier Jonathon Skipper, was discovered by his grandson that light was shed on the time he spent in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme.
But now his memory is set to be specially commemorated near the battlefield where he died during an exhibition dedicated to the lives of more than 72,000 men who were lost during the four month offensive.
Each day of the exhibition at the Thiepval memorial on the Somme, which runs from July to November - the months the battle was fought during 1916 - is dedicated to an individual soldier and delves into his personal story.
And on Sunday, October 7 the event will tell the story of Mr Skipper, a postman from Stafford Road who was signed up to fight with the 1st/8th Battalion, London Regiment and who died in October 1916, aged 35.
The letter he wrote on September 24, 1916 to his five children, which is one of only a few remaining links his family have to his war time past, will form part of the exhibition.
His grandson Christopher Pollard said: “We knew very little about him and that letter came to light after my mother died. It was in her belongings and that’s the only thing we had about him.
“My mother never talked about her father and my grandmother never talked about her husband although their hardship must have been incredible. They had to take in lodgers to make ends meet.”
Mr Pollard, 73, has visited the memorial on three occasions and will be making the journey to France again to lay a wreath and be present at his grandfather’s special exhibition, which he said would be a very “poignant and emotional occasion”.
“Out of 72,000 people he has been chosen (to be featured) largely I think because we were able to supply the letter and the original is going to be on show,” he added. “It’s a very poignant letter.
“He was just a postman. He wasn’t a captain, a general or anything, he was an ordinary fighting soldier.”
Mr Skipper, who was married to wife Gertrude and had five children aged from one - 14, talks about the terrible mud in the trenches in his letter and the “worst part” being the nights as it got dark so soon.
The letter, which is addressed to his “dear little children”, says: “Dada is please(d) to say thank God that I am feeling well once more, I am with all the dear soldiers that came back safe after the terrible battle, some are like me (and have) got little children at home so they are pleased God have [sic] spared them once more.”
He movingly signs the two page letter “God bless you all and keep you from all danger” with ten kisses - two for each of his children.