Yarmouth postman's last letter to 'dear little children' from trenches

Jonathan Skipper died in the trenches Battle of the Somme

The story of Jonathan Skipper, a rifleman from Great Yarmouth who died during the Battle of the Somme, is being remembered 105 years after he died and as his name is re-etched on the Thiepval Memorial in Northern France. - Credit: CWGC

A Norfolk rifleman's last written words to his young children penned two weeks before he died in battle have been released.

Jonathan Skipper wrote to his family from the trenches 105 years ago telling of "all the dear soldiers that came back safe after the terrible battle" and urging his children to pass on his love to their grandparents  and to jot down a few lines when their mother next sent a letter.

Thiepval war memorial

The Thiepval Memorial designed by Edwin Lutyens, the architect behind Norfolk's Overstrand Hall, is being restored. It features the names of the missing in the Battle of the Somme including Jonathan Skipper from Great Yarmouth. - Credit: CWGC

His is among 72,000 missing war dead names recorded on the world's largest Commonwealth war memorial in Northern France, the Thiepval Memorial, which is being restored.

The memorial remembers the fallen and reminds people that far from being just anonymous names carved in cold stone they belonged to young men with full lives, jobs, and families waiting for them at home.

Jonathan was one of twelve children born to Jonathan and Harriet Thurza Skipper in Great Yarmouth.

Restoration of the Thiepval Memorial

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is restoring its Thiepval Memorial, re-examining all 72,000 names including that of Yarmouth rifleman Jonathan Skipper. - Credit: CWGC

He married Gertrude Emma Stolliday in 1902 and together they had five children. He worked as a postman in the town but left the family to serve in the First World War.

In his last letter home, he wrote of "the terrible battle" as well as asking about his children and their studies, and noting it was sunny.

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Two weeks later on October 7, 1916, he was killed during the attack on Diagonal Trench near the Butte de Warlencourt as the Battle of the Somme continued. He was 36.

Thiepval war memorial in northern France

A complex restoration is underway at the Thiepval Memorial which commemorates the lives of 72,000 killed with no known grave, including Jonathan Skipper from Yarmouth. - Credit: CWGC

Twenty seven years later on October 22, 1943, during the Second World War, his son, Able Seaman Arthur Frederick William Skipper, was killed when HMS Hurworth struck a mine whilst on operations in the Aegean Sea.

Like his father, he was aged 36. He is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Plymouth Naval Memorial.

The letter in full

My dear little children, just a few lines to you all hoping you are all well and getting on fine at school.

Of course, I know our little Clifford don't go to school yet, he’s stopping at home and keeping mother company.

Well dada is please to say thank God that I am feeling well once more.

I am with all the dear soldiers that came back safe after the terrible battle.

Some are like me and got little children at home, so they are glad that God have spared them once more.

Well, I reckon you have all learnt some fine little pieces at your school since I left home, don't see any children where I am now, only soldiers.

Give the gran mams and gran dads my love when you go around to see them.

Suppose you go to Sunday school and sit with mother on Sunday evening, if she doesn’t take you out, the worst part is the winter nights as gets dark so soon after tea so you cannot get far.

It’s so nice and sunny today, after having so much rain which makes so much mud afterwards.

You must all write me a short little letter and put it in Mothers letter when she writes just tell me how you are keeping.

Well this little letter is for you all from your loving Dada with fondest love. God bless you all and keep you from all danger. Two kisses each XX XX XX XX XX.

The Battle of the Somme

On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme (a river in northern France) almost 20,000 men under British command died. By the time the battle was over, 141 days later, more than a million people on all sides were killed, wounded, or went missing making it one of the deadliest battles in human history.

Thiepval war memorial Battle of the Somme

Each name on the Thiepval Memorial is being re-engraved by hand. It is one of the most visited war memorials in the world. - Credit: CWGC

The Thiepval Memorial

For the British and South Africans with no known grave the Thiepval Memorial stands in their honour.

It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and unveiled by the Prince of Wales in August 1932.

Claire Horton CBE, director general of CWGC, said: “The Battle of the Somme remains one of the most powerful reminders of the cost of war, and 105 years later we continue to remember the fallen.

“The scars of battle have all but disappeared and the cemeteries and memorials of the CWGC are some of the last reminders in the landscape of what happened. For the missing, for men like Jonathan, the iconic Thiepval Memorial serves as their legacy, all 72,000 of them. 

Restoration involves checking every name and the  memorial has been closed since March.

Work is due to be complete by June 2022. For those still able to visit the site, a digital exhibition – In the Shadow of Thiepval – can be accessed by smart phone or tablet, telling the story of the memorial, the Battle of the Somme and the men who fought and died there.

For more information visit the CWGC website.