Letters to Starbeck from the Front

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Private Willis Taylor from Starbeck was just 25 years old when he died in France during the First World War.

His wife Annie, known as Effie, lived on Albert Street with the couple’s three-year old-son, Reginald, when she received the news that Private Taylor was ‘presumed to have died’ in May 1917.

Just days earlier she had received Private Taylor’s final letter from the front line, which painted a bleak picture of the realities of war.

Private Taylor begged his wife to send food parcels to him as he struggled on wartime rations in France.

On May 4 1917 he wrote: “I hope you are receiving my letters alright, although I have not been able to write very often lately. I hope that because you are not getting letter from me that you are not worrying too much and think I have forgotten you, it troubles me very much when I cannot let you have news regularly.

“I am looking forward to receiving a parcel before long as we don’t get very good rations just now, you once asked me if I would like a shilling or two sending now and then, well I don’t want you to send the money, but I will be very pleased if you will send me a parcel now and then, as often as possible (that sounds cheeky) but when you don’t get sufficient to eat and have a lot of rough work to do it makes one feel like asking for something... I would be satisfied if I got a parcel with nothing but bread and something to put on it.”

As usual he signed off his letter: “Ever your loving hubby, Willis.”

Private Taylor’s grandson, Gordon Willis, 57, recently dug out his grandfather’s letters and pictures for a school project his daughter, Laura, 13 is doing at King James’s School.

He said: “It must have been tough for them, they were obviously starving out there. He was begging for food.

“My grandfather worked on the railways before he joined the army as he would earn more money. I don’t think they knew what they were letting themselves in for.

“He hoped for a ‘blighty’ wound which would mean he would be sent home.”

In an earlier letter sent on April 19 1917 Private Taylor wrote: “I was expecting to get a blighty this time, a good few of our chaps got it this time, we had a good few casualties so you can guess what sort of a time we have had.”

Mr Taylor, who lives on Plumpton Drive in Harrogate, said he has researched his grandfather’s story, but still has many unanswered questions.

“He joined the Cameronians Scottish Rifles, despite growing up in Starbeck, we don’t know why.”

He said: “It was hard my father growing up without his dad, his mother remarried after the war and had two children, my uncles, but died during childbirth. Her second husband left the three boys, they were orphaned and brought up by my grandfather’s sister who had lived a few doors down the road on Albert Place.

“My father named me Gordon Willis Taylor after him. I was still in school when I started research.

“When you look at the pictures there is a family resemblance.”

Mr Taylor visited the Arras Memorial in France when he was 25, the same age his grandfather died.

He said: “All they know is that 60 men went out to fight that day and didn’t come back. He could have been injured in no man’s land for days.

“If I had one wish it would be to be able to give him a proper burial. 
Things were just so different then.”