British Tommy's letter from the Trenches tipped to fetch £3,000

‘I would rather die a man’s death than feel I had failed’: British Tommy’s stoic letter from the Trenches is tipped to fetch £3,000 at auction

  • Captain Walter Cornock wrote to his father in June 1917 and said he was driven by an enormous sense of duty
  • Capt Cornock said people are ‘unnecessarily afraid of death’ in the stoic letter  
  • He distinguished himself during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917 and the 1918 German Spring Offensive

A stoic letter from a British World War One officer saying he would rather ‘die a man’s death than feel I had failed’ has come to light 104 years on. 

Captain Walter Cornock, of the 12th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, distinguished himself during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917 and the 1918 German Spring Offensive. 

The correspondence to his father, also named Walter, reveals how he was driven by an enormous sense of duty and prepared to sacrifice his life for his country. 

The 25-year-old, from Gloucester, said this was preferable to taking ‘cowardly advantage’ of a situation and surviving, adding that people are ‘unnecessarily afraid of death’. 

Captain Walter Cornock, of the 12th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, distinguished himself during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917 and the 1918 German Spring Offensive

Captain Walter Cornock’s diaries and letters and diaries have emerged for sale alongside his campaign medals with Fellows Auctioneers, of Birmingham

The correspondence to his father, also named Walter, reveals how he was driven by an enormous sense of duty and prepared to sacrifice his life for his country. Pictured: The letter

He wrote on June 24, 1917: ‘I would rather die a man’s death, than have to feel that I had failed to go through with it or taken a cowardly advantage of a chance to get out of it. 

‘Not that I expect to be killed, I have every hope of coming through, providence has been very good to me thus far, thankfully I don’t mind much either way. 

‘I think we are unnecessarily afraid of death – I’m only worried because of the pain it would cause to all you at home. 

‘However, please don’t worry anymore about my coming home because I shouldn’t be… I am fit and all serene. Heaps and heaps of love to you all.’ 

His letters and diaries have emerged for sale alongside his campaign medals with Fellows Auctioneers, of Birmingham. 

The archive, which has been kept in an iron safety box carrying his name, is tipped to fetch £3,000. It also features his scabbard and a family photo album. 

Captain Walter Cornock’s letter

Dear Daddy,

Thanks for yours of 19th – just received.

I’m very sorry indeed to hear such bad news of poor Uncle Charlie. It is awfully hard lines for him, and looks very serious.

As far as it concerns me however, I’m afraid I can’t agree with your suggestion at all. It seems to me that if an inexperienced hand can keep on the farm, Ernest is the man for the job. If not, the farm will have to be given up in any case.

Ernest knows as much about farming as I do, and it would be a great shame to have to give up the farm – I should like to see the two E’s [May be initial of Ernest and another person] at Hillesley, and think they’d do very well after a little experience.

I know nothing about farming, and am quite determined to see this job through, I should never forgive myself if I took advantage of a thing of this sort to get home, when it is not necessary.

I’ve given up a good deal, but most men have made for greater sacrifices than I have, and I shan’t think of anything else until it is over.

I would rather die a man’s death, than have to feel that I had failed to go through with it or taken a cowardly advantage of a chance to get out of it.

Not that I expect to be killed, I have every hope of coming through, providence has been very good to me thus far, thankfully I don’t mind much either way. 

I think we are unnecessarily afraid of death – I’m only worried because of the pain it would cause to all you at home.

However, please don’t worry anymore about my coming home because I shouldn’t be agreeable, and I think probably you can understand my feelings, although my being out here is such an anxiety for you all.

I am fit and all serene. Heaps and heaps of love to you all.

Your ever loving son, Walter.

 

Captain Cornock’s (pictured) letters and diaries have emerged for sale alongside his campaign medals with Fellows Auctioneers, of Birmingham

The archive, which has been kept in an iron safety box carrying his name, is tipped to fetch £3,000

Pictured: Captain Walter Cornock’s diaries, safety box and medal set which is up for auction

Alison Jakeway, antiques specialist at Fellows, said: ‘Capt Cornock’s archive is one of the most extensive collections that I have ever seen relating to an individual who served in the First World War. 

‘There are incredibly moving letters and diaries alongside the lot, including a poignant letter addressed to his father which represents how tough certain periods of the war were. 

‘It is evident that Capt Cornock was a family man who served his country with distinction. 

‘We are proud to sell his wartime collection.’ 

Capt Cornock joined the Army in 1906 aged just 14 as a private in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars. His diary includes a detailed account of a major British attack at Vimy Ridge in the spring of 1916. 

Capt Cornock joined the Army in 1906 aged just 14 as a private in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars

A portrait of Captain Walter Cornock in his photo album alongside other pictures from his travels

His diary includes a detailed account of a major British attack at Vimy Ridge in the spring of 1916 

He writes: ‘Zero hour was at 5.30am, when the Artillery, which were wheel to wheel, broke out into the biggest concentration of fire ever experienced on any front at any time. 

‘It was intensely cold, the air filled with snow flakes as the men went over the top, sheltered to some extent from the creeping barrage. 

‘The enemy’s front support trenches had been reduced to a mixture of shell holes and broken wire, and within four hours most of the Ridge had been taken by the Canadians and good progress made further south to the line of the Scarpe in front of Arras by the British troops… 

‘Shortly after daylight a stream of wounded and prisoners came down the road and this continued all day, and we learned that 10,000 prisoners had been taken.’ 

The auction lot also includes the medals Captain Cornock received during his duty

Captain Cornock’s photo albums are also up for sale as well as his diaries and medals

Captain Cornock later fought in the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919 as captain of the 30th Punjabis and, according to his diary, acted as Adjutant to Prince Edward in India in August 1921. 

He retired from the army in 1922 before working in the coal and laundry industries. He died aged 80 in 1972. 

His medal group consists of the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. The sale takes place on Monday. 

Pictured: A copy of Captain Walter Cornock’s service record

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