Young soldier remembered as Armistice Day approaches

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On August 16, 1914 – two weeks after the outbreak of the First World War – labourer Frank Thorpe signed up to join the Army.

A year later – at the age of 19 – he was killed at Gallipoli; one of 120,000 British soldiers to meet their deaths in an Allied campaign against the Ottoman Empire.

And as the country prepares to remember its fallen on Armistice Day, Private Thorpe’s tragic story is remembered in a collection of medals and documents, which will go under the hammer at an antiques auction in the Cotswolds on Friday, November 8.

Frank Albert Thorpe – or Tony to his friends – was born and grew up in Tunbridge Wells, but was working in London when he answered the clarion call. He enlisted with the South Staffordshire Regiment.

He met his death at Gallipoli on September 1, 1915, but his mother was not immediately informed. Instead, a letter she had written to him had been returned, stamped ‘killed’.

It was weeks before the War Office finally confirmed that Pvt 10323 F A Thorpe had been killed during the final salvos of the doomed campaign to capture Constantinople and secure a sea route to Russia.

He was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914-15 Star. Those medals, along with his dog tag, death plaque, a scroll of thanks sent to his family by the South Staffordshire Regiment, and a standard letter of thanks sent on behalf of King George V, will be sold by antiques auctioneers Moore Allen & Innocent of Cirencester, on behalf of his Swindon family, with a guide price of £200 to £300.

The lot also includes a photograph of Private Thorpe in uniform, and his copy of the Soldiers’ Small Book – a guide to military practice and etiquette issued to all servicemen – which includes some biographical detail.

From the book, we know that he was 5’5” tall, of fair complexion with auburn hair, blue eyes, and a tattoo of a butterfly on his left arm.

And from a local newspaper clipping – headlined Killed in Gallipoli – we know that he grew up at 29 Quarry Road, Tunbridge Wells and attended the Royal Victoria and St Peter’s Schools.

The newspaper reports: “The first intimation Mrs Thorpe had that all was not well with her son was by a letter returned three weeks back marked ‘killed’.

“She at once made enquiries with the War Office, and ultimately received a letter from them on Friday last, stating that he was in the casualty list received from Alexandria as having been killed in action in Gallipoli on the 1st September.”

The report concludes: “His father is serving with the Army Cycle Corps and the dead soldier’s two elder brothers are also with the colours, one in the A.S.C. [the Army Service Corps, which kept front line troops supplied with rations and provisions] and the other in the machine gun section of the Kent Cyclists.”

Auctioneer Philip Allwood said: “Auctions of collections of medals from the First World War are becoming less common, as they pass from families into the possession of museums, historians and collectors.

“What makes this lot particularly interesting is the very personal detail that is included alongside the medals. They tell the story of a young man who went to war, never to return, and touch on the anguish of his mother, who had to lobby the War Office to discover what had happened to her youngest son, in the knowledge that her husband and two other boys were overseas, fighting for King and Country.

“As Armistice Day approaches, collections like this serve to remind us that each of the 16 million casualties of the Great War had a mother, and a life outside of military service that was cut tragically short.”

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