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Matthew Burns

SEDBERGH SCHOOL RECEIVES GIFT OF WW1 TRENCH LETTERS

Thirty letters from the First World War have been donated to Sedbergh School, from the family of Edward Staveley Taylor (Lupton House 1909-1912). The letters cover the military career of a young man in the King’s Liverpool regiment from signing up in 1914 to his death at the Somme in 1916. Together with replies from his friends and family, these documents give a first-hand account of day-to-day life for soldiers during the First World War.

The early letters record Edward’s concerns about whether or not to volunteer and about leaving his mother without support at home. During his training he describes frustration with the lack of moment, writing: ‘That is one of the great faults of the Terriers, you waste such a lot of time, waiting for orders’.

In one letter Edward writes to his Uncle about the food he is served in his mess and, in particular, his delight at having pineapple chunks for the first time.

As the war progresses Edward writes about life in the trenches and manoeuvres he was involved in. The later letters are written by staff at No.5 casualty clearing station, detailing injuries Edward sustained in battle, his slow recovery over many months and his sudden death.

Edward came to Sedbergh School after attending Sedbergh Preparatory School and stayed at Sedbergh until just short of his nineteenth birthday. He achieved much and was a popular member of the community.

The Sedberghian testifies: ‘He had a quick brain and ready wit, and was generally the centre of a knot of boys, full of chaff and laughter. In his presence it was impossible to be dull: though he never gave the impression of great effect he rose rapidly in the School and in 1912 surprised and delighted his friends by winning the Sedgwick Mathematical Prize.’At the end of his first year he had been top of his class at Classics, French and Mathematics.

The letters have been passed down through the family who have kindly donated them to Sedbergh School so that they can be preserved and made available to First World War researchers. Sedbergh School Archivist Katy de la Riviere spoke of her deep gratitude to Edward’s family: “Their kindness in donating the collection has made it available to a wide audience of researchers. The minutia of daily life recorded in these letters paints a vivid picture of one man’s experience of the war.’ 

Sedbergh School history teacher Philippa Prall is keen to share the letters with year 10 pupils in preparation for the school’s annual battlefield trip later this year. She said: “It is so important to be able to teach pupils about the events of the First World War. Having these fantastic letters brings to life the experience of Sedberghian Edward Taylor and helps us share that with our pupils.”
 
The collection also includes a photograph of Edward’s gravestone taken in 1926 by a visiting family member, the papers from Edward’s commission and promotions and telegrams sent to his mother on the occasion of his death.

All documents in the collection are available to view at Sedbergh School Archive. For details of visiting the archive please contact the archivist on 015396 22275.

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