'It's a great comfort he was killed so suddenly': Great War horrors go to auction

Letters home from Sergeant Arthur Bradley who served on the Western Front for practically the entire course of the First World War are to be auctioned at Bonhams' Printed Books, Maps and Manuscripts in London on November 23. 

As the UK today (November 14) marks Remembrance Sunday, they serve as a powerful reminder of the horror of war and the impact on the lives of people on the home front, as well as of those on the field of battle.

Sergeant Bradley joined the army in 1915. He wrote frequently to his wife showing a neat grasp of the hard realities of combat: "Out here one is always category A1 until dead," he wrote," then you get landowners privilege 6ft and a bit of timber RIP."  

He was killed outright by an exploding shell on 22 August 1918, only weeks before the war ended.

Writing to Bradley's widow, his commanding officer, Major Octavius Fane said: "I have been with Sergt Bradley so long that I miss him very much indeed, and he is a tremendous loss to the Battery. He is one of the coolest men we had, and always did his duty cheerfully and well.

"I know I am right in saying that the whole battery will feel the loss deeply - and that we would all like you to feel that you have our great sympathy in your loss."

A letters home from Sergeant Arthur Bradley, from WW1's Western Front

Mrs Bradley replied with great dignity.  Not surprisingly, she had hoped that her husband's "good fortune would carry him through".  She asked that a parcel of cigarettes which she had sent, but that he would not have received, be distributed among his comrades.

Poignantly she wrote: "You will be pleased to know that it is a great comfort he was killed so suddenly, he told me it was the death he most desired if it was his fate to go.

"I would like to hear from the comrade he spoke with last, perhaps you will be kind enough to make my wish known, & perhaps they will inform me if it was necessary to bury him or if the shell ... words fail me."

Major Fane, who had served with Sergeant Bradley for two years, wrote back in early September giving details of the return of his personal effects and arranging for one of his fellow soldiers to contact Mrs Bradley.  He himself died of wounds received nine days later.

Archives of this sort, covering so much of the First World War, are exceptionally rare and the estimate for the collection, which includes letters from other soldiers, photographs and personal effects, is estimated at between £4,000-6,000. 


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