Wartime autograph book unearthed


A postcard sent to Private (Drummer) Edward Wolstencroft of the Royal Fusiliers found at Shepreth Village Hall in Cambridgeshire

An autograph book containing inscriptions written by First World War soldiers being treated in a military hospital more than 90 years ago has been unearthed by a pensioner.

Roy Chamberlain, 90, discovered the book – which belonged to his mother Mary – among old photographs at his home in Foxton, Cambridgeshire.

Soldiers being treated at a local village hall, turned into a temporary hospital in 1915, have written and sketched in the book and added names and dates.

A private known to have died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 copied lines from Thomas Babington Macaulay’s poem “Horatius” which read: “And how can man die better, Than facing fearful odds…”

Mr Chamberlain said his mother was a cook at a manor house in neighbouring Shepreth, where the hospital was set up, during the First World War.

“I think it was quite common in those days for young people to have autograph books,” he said.

“Quite a few soldiers have written and drawn in the book and signed their names. My mother would have been in her 20s and single. I suppose she would have visited the soldiers. My grandmother worked as a nurse at the hospital.”

Mr Chamberlain unearthed the book a month after a 1915 postcard written to Private Edward Wolstencroft was found behind a wooden panel at Shepreth village hall by workmen.

Data shows that Private Wolstencroft, who came from Edmonton, Middlesex, died when he was in his mid-20s on July 7 1916 – a week after British troops launched their fateful Somme attack on German lines.

He has copied part of a verse from “Horatius” into the autograph book and copied a Mabel Lucie Attwell illustration, which would have probably featured on a postcard during the First World War.

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