Decayed tooth saved Leeds brother from First World War battle

John Brook.
John Brook.

A Leeds man was spared the frontline of one of the First World War’s most famous battles – because of a decayed tooth.

Wilfred Brook was not allowed to serve with the Leeds Pals – but his brother John died in one of the conflict’s defining encounters.

The former wanted to be part of one of Yorkshire’s top battalions, but was told while enlisting that his decaying tooth prevented him, his son said. Leeds man John Brook, 87, who is named after his uncle, said:“He was surprised and disappointed because it separated him from his brother.

“He was lucky – the decayed tooth saved his life, in a way.”

But the emotional strain of later service took its toll.

Mr Brook said: “As a boy, my father wouldn’t talk about the war, but if anything went ‘pop’, like me throwing something in the fire, he used to go and sit in the bedroom. He just went away to be quiet, you could see him shaking a bit.”

John’s dad Wilfred lived into his 80s, but his uncle died, he said, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – one of nearly half a million Britons who fell during it.

Mr Brook said: “The Leeds Pals were just decimated.

“I don’t think many survived that first day.”

Hundreds of men from Leeds - including clerks, mechanical engineers and schoolmasters - answered the call to arms and signed up for the war at Leeds Town Hall in September 1914.

Less than two years later the battalion suffered horrendous casualties on the first day of the Somme offensive.