In November 2014 and despite my determination to see the magnificent Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red in the Tower of London moat, I was unable to visit until after Armistice Day and although many of the ceramic poppies had been removed – the sight before me was still a powerful experience.
When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today…
As I watched from the shadows on that cold and very rainy day as the volunteers carefully plucked the ceramic poppies from the muddy ground and into the safety of their cardboard nests – I was feeling disappointed that no poppy would be finding its forever home with me.
But in looking at this sea of poppies and imagining the glorious sight that ALL 888,246 must have made a few days earlier – I felt a little happier knowing that at least one of these ceramic tributes had been created in honour of Wilfred Jowitt – a young solider whose story I had been researching.
My interest in Wilf began one day after a visit of cake and family history chatter with my grandmother along with the gift of some ‘Loving Cards’ and the tale of how they had once been secretly cherished by the recipient – my great-grandmother Ellen for over half a century.
Born in the Wakefield district of Warmfield-cum-Heath in West Yorkshire in 1896, Wilf was the eldest child of Ernest, a coal miner who along with his wife Hannah and their surviving children; Clara Elizabeth, Dorothy, Edna May, Rowland and Maud all lived in a little two roomed house on Frobisher Row which has long since disappeared.
Wilf was introduced to Ellen by his younger sister Dorothy while working at Rowntrees, the famous chocolate factory in York before the onset of the war and although their courtship soon began in earnest – Wilf enlisted in the Prince of Wales North Staffordshire Regiment as a Private and was stationed at Normanton in Wakefield before travelling over to France in 1914.
Although he returned home from his first tour of duty in 1916 safe from harm and delighted to be reunited with his beloved Ellen – he begged her to marry him and Ellen perhaps mindful of the likelihood of becoming yet another young war widow – refused him.
As Wilf prepared for a return to the front line in early 1917, Ellen’s lasting memory was to be of him “crying like a baby”.
However, upon his return to France and despite the rebuff, Wilf penned several ‘Loving Cards’ to Ellen in his neatest handwriting with expressions of his continued affection and signing off with lots of kisses.
His final ‘Loving Card’ was posted in September 1917.
Sergeant Wilfred Jowitt died from his wounds during the Battle of Cambrai on Thursday November 29 1917 at the age of 21 and with no known grave, he is remembered with honour at the Cambrai Memorial in Louverval France.
His name can also be seen etched in stone on the Warmfield-cum-Heath War Memorial as was proudly photographed by one of his direct ancestors on the centenary of his death in November 2017.
His ‘Loving cards’ were all that remained of a young life cut tragically short until after Ellen’s death in 1971 when they were discovered by my grandmother on a cupboard shelf tucked inside a little brown envelope and his story could finally be told.
Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.
John Maxwell Edmonds