World War One poppy picked from 1916 French battlefield by heartbroken brother expected to fetch thousands at auction

A World War One poppy which was picked by the heartbroken brother of a fallen British soldier at a French battlefield over a century ago is expected to fetch thousands at auction after recently being uncovered.
The poppy was picked by the heartbroken brother of a fallen British soldier.The poppy was picked by the heartbroken brother of a fallen British soldier.
The poppy was picked by the heartbroken brother of a fallen British soldier.

The dried poppy - described as "one of the most poignant symbols of brotherly love ever seen" - was plucked in memory of Private James Henry Lester, who died in battle in 1916.

He was aged just 21 when he lost his life in northern France during the bloody conflict, which claimed 20 million lives between 1914 and 1918.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His grieving brother Christopher Lester, a fellow serving soldier, went to the spot where he died at the time and picked a poppy and some other flowers.

Sadly, Christopher also died a few years later in 1924 from the effects of the First World War but generations of their family have cherished the mementos ever since.

The collection also includes two temporary wooden crosses used to mark James’s grave in Forceville Military Cemetery, in Somme.

They form a rare set of WW1 artefacts, described as one of the most emotive military collections ever seen by Hansons Auctioneers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The wartime items are expected to fetch between £2,000 and £3,000 when they go under the hammer in Etwall, Derbyshire, on October 1.

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons, said: “This is one of the most emotive military collections we have ever seen, a powerful symbol of brotherly love.

"It sweeps you back to that terrible war more than a century ago.

"You can’t help but imagine the emotions Christopher must have felt when he picked those flowers from the spot where his brother had lost his life.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“A few years later in 1924 Christopher was dead at the age of 30 due to 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 claimed 20 million lives. That figure is almost impossible to comprehend. Finds like this remind us of the people behind the numbers.

"The items have been treasured by members of the Lester family for generations.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"However, the current guardians of these important historical items feel now is the time to share the brothers’ story and find an enduring home for these important wartime artefacts.

"Their great hope is that a museum may purchase the items and put them on public display, a permanent reminder of the sacrifices made by an entire generation.”

The collection also includes a death plaque and certificate in wooden frames, a framed picture of James, a trench art stand in the form of a heart made from brass and copper, a locket with pictures of James and Christopher, letters, books, boots, a satchel and a hand-carved cross.

All of the items belonged to the tragic brothers.

One of the wooden crosses used to mark James's grave states: "156161 PTE F H Lester of the Army Service Corps. Died of wounds 14th July 1916".

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The ‘F’ is a misprint and should be a ‘J’. The second cross states that James was in the Army Service Corps, 77th Siege Battery.

The seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: “James was the eldest of ten children born in 1894 to Alfred and Mary Ellen Lester.

"The family lived in a two-bedroom cottage at School Green, Yoxall, Staffordshire.

"His dad, known as Pop, ran a motor and bike repair garage in a building by the cottage.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"His mother tended the house and kept her children well. The couple were highly regarded in the community.

“James went to the village school and attended Sunday school. Later, he became his father’s apprentice, repairing vehicles, farm machinery and pushbikes.

"He was said to be a gentle and kind person who adored his family and village life.

“When the First World War broke out, James was called up to fight and served in the Royal Army Service Corps 8th Heavy Artillery.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"He later became a driver for the officers, perhaps thanks to his motors background.

"However, this is why his life came to a premature end. 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 of horrific leg injuries in hospital two hours later. He must have been in so much pain.

“He was buried the following Sunday at Forceville Cemetery. His grave was marked with an army issue wooden cross, later replaced with a stone memorial.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The cross was eventually sent home to his family. It was displayed in his sister’s - my grandmother’s - garden for many years until it was decided it should be stored indoors.

“James and Christopher have never been forgotten. Their names have been used in tribute 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 suffered in their short lives.”

Related topics: