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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Remembering - two of my WW1 ancestors

Researching our WW1 ancestors can be fascinating and frustrating in equal measure, given so many military records were lost during WW2 bombing raids.

I'm lucky in knowing something, at least, of the role some of my ancestors played in the conflict, thanks in part to what my grandfather kept and what my grandmother told me about her brother, which gave me a useful start to my research.

My grandfather, Ernest George Shelley (always known as George) served in both the South Staffordshire and the Notts & Derby regiments. I have his Service and Pay Book (below) which has told me more about his WW1 experiences than he ever did when he was alive, which isn't uncommon, of course. Many soldiers found it hard to convey the horrors they witnessed.

The well-known former soldier, the late Harry Patch, had never spoken about the war until he was over a 100 years old and living in a care home. His room was opposite the laundry cupboard and every time a member of staff opened it to get out linen the fluorescent light would flicker, bringing back traumatic memories of life in the trenches. In a way to stop the subsequent nightmares, Harry was encouraged to talk about experiences, which led to the publication of his biography, The Last Fighting Tommy. You can read some of his memories in this BBC interview.

My great uncle, Thomas Diggory, joined the Gloucester regiment and became a Lance

Corporal. Although initially in the Yeomanry (I have photographs of him on horse-back), he apparently changed to the infantry. (As to why is one of the mysteries I've yet to unravel!) He was with his battalion at Gallipoli where he was badly wounded in the leg. Although he didn't die of his injuries, the leg never fully healed and he was bed-ridden for much of his later life.

Although the medical advice was amputation of the damaged leg, Tom (as he was known) refused, saying he'd come into this world with two legs and he intended to go out of it with two!

I never met Tom, as he died before I was born, but his photograph stood in pride of place on my grandmother's mantelpiece. Tom was her elder brother and, clearly, her hero.


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