WWI poppy picked by fallen soldier's brother goes up for auction

A poppy picked by the brother of a First World War soldier from the spot where he died is now going up for auction.

The poppy, picked by James's brother Christopher, which is now up for auction
The poppy, picked by James's brother Christopher, which is now up for auction

Private James Henry Lester from Yoxall, Staffordshire, was aged 21 when he died in 1916. His brother Christopher Lester, a fellow serving soldier in France, went to the spot where he died and picked the poppy in his memory which is now

James had served in the Royal Army Service Corps 8th Heavy Artillery, but became a driver for the officers as he had been an apprentice in his father's motor repair garage. His car was hit by a shell on July 14 and he died in hospital of leg injuries two hours later.

Brother Christopher died in 1924, aged 28, with his cause of death attributed to the effects of the war.

The seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained: “James was the eldest of 10 children born in 1894 to Alfred and Mary Ellen Lester. The family lived in a two-bedroom cottage at School Green, Yoxall.

"His dad, known as pop, ran a motor and bike repair garage in a building by the cottage. 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 with his siblings. 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.

The Lester family circa 1906. James, aged 12, is seated right and Christopher, aged 10, is seated left

“When the First World War broke out, James was called up to fight and served in the Royal Army Service Corps 8th Heavy Artillery. He later became a driver for the officers, perhaps thanks to his motor repairs 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. The cross was eventually sent home to his family."

The wooden cross and the poppy are part of a collection of artefacts going to auction with a guide price of £2,000 to £2,000.

The items are said to have been treasured by the Lester family for generations. But they now want to share the brothers' story and find a home for the artefacts, preferably in a museum so they can be put on public display.

Two temporary wooden crosses used to mark James’s grave in Forceville Military Cemetery, one of which was then displayed in his sister's garden, are also included along with a death plaque, a locket, and a piece of trench art in the shape of a heart.

A picture of James Lester, alongside his death plaque and certificate

One of the most evocative items in the collection is a book with the inscription: "To his mother, in memory of Jim Lester. Who gave his life for his country, 1916. 'His burden now laid down, he sleeps. Grant him eternal rest.'"

The seller added: “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.”

Charles Hanson, whose company is auctioning the brothers' collection, 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."

The James and Christopher Lester collection will go to auction in Hansons’ Militaria Auction on October 1 at Hansons in Derbyshire.

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