Dried poppy plucked by brother of fallen soldier set to fetch £ 3,000 at auction

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A dried poppy plucked from a First World battlefield where an English soldier fell over a century ago has been described as a ‘potent symbol of brotherly love’ and is expected to fetch up to £ 3,000 to auction.

Private James Henry Lester was leading an unnamed officer to an event in France in 1916, at the age of just 21, when they were hit by a long-range shell. The officer was killed instantly and James died of his injuries two hours later.

Soon after, his brother Christopher Lester, another soldier, went to where James was hit by the shell and picked up a poppy and other flowers.

They are now part of a rare set of World War I artifacts, described as one of the most moving military collections ever seen. It includes two temporary wooden crosses used to mark James’ grave at Forceville Military Cemetery, France.

The larger cross reads: ‘156161 PTE FH Lester of the Army Service Corps. Died from his wounds on July 14, 1916 ‘. The ‘F’ is a printing error, it should be a ‘J’. The second cross indicates that James was in the Army Service Corps, 77th Siege Battery.

The collection will go under the hammer at a sale by Hansons Auctioneers in Etwall, Derbyshire on October 1 with a guide price of £ 2,000-3,000.

It also includes a death plaque and certificate in wooden frames, a framed photo of James, a heart-shaped brass and copper trench art stand, a locket with pictures of James and Christopher, letters, books, boots, a satchel and a hand-carved cross. All the objects belonged to the brothers.

Jacques Lester

Christophe lester

Private James Henry Lester (left) was leading an unnamed officer to an event in France in 1916, when he was just 21, when he was hit by a long-range shell. The officer was killed instantly and James died of his injuries two hours later. Soon after, his brother Christopher Lester (right), another soldier on duty, traveled to where James was hit by the shell and picked a poppy and other flowers.

Photo of James Lester, death plaque and certificate.  He was driving an officer to an event when the shell hit them

Photo of James Lester, death plaque and certificate. He was driving an officer to an event when the shell hit them

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons, said: “This is one of the most moving military collections we have ever seen, a powerful symbol of brotherly love. It takes you back to that terrible war over a century ago. You can’t help but imagine the emotions Christopher must have felt when he picked these flowers from the spot where his brother had lost his life.

“A few years later, in 1924, Christopher died at the age of 28 from the effects of the First World War. A family had lost two sons. It was one of the most brutal conflicts the world has ever known. It killed 20 million people. This figure is almost impossible to understand. Findings like this remind us of the people behind the numbers.

“The items have been cherished by members of the Lester family for generations. However, the current custodians of these important historical objects believe that the time has come to share the story of the brothers and find a lasting home for these important artefacts of war.

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“Their great hope is that a museum can buy the objects and display them to the public, a permanent reminder of the sacrifices made by an entire generation.”

The seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: “James was the oldest of 10 children born in 1894 to Alfred and Mary Ellen Lester. The family lived in a two bedroom cottage in School Green, Yoxall, Staffordshire. His father, known as Pop, ran an engine and bicycle repair garage in a building next to the chalet. Her mother looked after the house and looked after her children well. The couple were well liked in the community.

“James went to the village school and went to Sunday school. He later became his father’s apprentice, repairing vehicles, farm machinery and push bikes. He was said to be a sweet and kind person who adored his family and village life.

Small cross temporarily used to mark James's grave in France after his death from leg wounds following the shell attack in 1916

Small cross temporarily used to mark James’s grave in France after his death from leg wounds following the shell attack in 1916

Family photo of Lester, circa 1906 outside their home in Yoxall, Staffordshire.  Back from left, Alf junior, Alf (Pop) Lester, John, Mary Ellen.  Middle Row: James Henry (seated), Christopher John (seated), Edith, standing.  In front, Isabel Mary and Annie, holding dolls

Family photo of Lester, circa 1906 outside their home in Yoxall, Staffordshire. Back from left, Alf junior, Alf (Pop) Lester, John, Mary Ellen. Middle Row: James Henry (seated), Christopher John (seated), Edith, standing. In front, Isabel Mary and Annie, holding dolls

It also includes a death plaque and certificate in wooden frames, a framed photo of James, a heart-shaped brass and copper trench art stand, a locket with pictures of James and Christopher, letters, books, boots, a satchel and a hand-carved cross.  All the objects belonged to the brothers

It also includes a death plaque and certificate in wooden frames, a framed photo of James, a heart-shaped brass and copper trench art stand, a locket with pictures of James and Christopher, letters, books, boots, a satchel and a hand-carved cross. All the objects belonged to the brothers

“When World War I broke out, James was called up and served in the 8th Heavy Artillery of the Royal Army Service Corps. He later became a driver for the officers, perhaps thanks to his background in the engine industry. However, that is why his life ended prematurely.

“He was driving his master, an officer, we don’t know his name, to an event when the car was hit by a shell. His master was killed instantly. Poor James died from horrific leg injuries in hospital two hours later. He must have been in so much pain.

“He was buried the following Sunday in Forceville cemetery. His grave was marked with a wooden cross from the army, later replaced by a stone memorial. The cross was finally sent to his family. It was on display in his sister’s garden – my grandmother’s – for many years until it was decided that it should be kept indoors.

‘James and Christopher have never been forgotten. Their names were used in homage to the brothers for cousins, nieces and nephews they never got to meet. We will never forget their bravery, their loyalty to their country and the pain they endured in their short lives. ‘

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