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Norfolk soldier’s First World War letters to go under the hammer

PUBLISHED: 15:46 20 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:02 20 November 2018

Frank Cooling�s gun crew pictured in 1918. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art Auctioneers

Frank Cooling�s gun crew pictured in 1918. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art Auctioneers

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Hundreds of letters written from the Western Front by a Norfolk soldier during the entire duration of the First World War are to be sold at auction, just weeks after the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which brought an end to the conflict.

A selection of the items in the Cooling collection which will go under the hammer on in Aylsham on November 28. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art AuctioneersA selection of the items in the Cooling collection which will go under the hammer on in Aylsham on November 28. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art Auctioneers

Bombardier Frank Cooling, from the South Norfolk village of Hopton, between Thetford and Diss, had a long and distinguished military career, beginning with service in the Boer War, and culminating with four years spent in the 10th Norwich City Battalion of the Home Guard during the Second World War Two.

The collection includes a poignant letter written from France on 12th November 1918, in which Bombardier Cooling writes, “The French people here seem awfully excited over the news [of the Armistice]”.

The letters from France and Belgium are the centrepiece of an extraordinary collection of memorabilia from his military service, including medals, uniforms, photographs and documents – all of which will be up for auction at Keys Fine Art Auctioneers in Aylsham on November 28.

Frank Cooling in his First World War uniform. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art AuctioneersFrank Cooling in his First World War uniform. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art Auctioneers

The stream of correspondence was sent by the soldier to his family back in Hopton, where it is believed they ran a grocer’s shop. The hundreds of missives range from heavily-censored ‘I am quite well’ postcards to pages-long handwritten letters.

“This is an amazing record of one Norfolk soldier’s war, right from the very start through to the Armistice,” said Andrew Lindsay-Bullock of Keys Fine Art Auctioneers, who catalogued the collection.

“I’m always pleased when I find out I have got a survivor – more soldiers lived through the whole war than most people realise.

No 4 Company, 10th Norwich City Battalion, Home Guard; Frank Cooling is middle row, second left. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art AuctioneersNo 4 Company, 10th Norwich City Battalion, Home Guard; Frank Cooling is middle row, second left. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art Auctioneers

“In any war mail gets censored so that it doesn’t reveal anything of military interest, and Cooling’s letters would have been vetted in this way. Interestingly, in World War One officers censored their own mail, so you will often find material in their letters which would have led to a court martial if it had been included in the correspondence of an ordinary soldier.”

Find out if you live in a house that once belonged to a First World War soldier

After serving in the 1899-1902 Boer War and throughout the First World War, Frank Cooling joined the 10th Norwich City Battalion of the Home Guard in 1940, remaining a member until it was disbanded in December 1944.

Also in the collection are the medals, uniforms, letters and other items owned by Frank Cooling’s son Norman Cooling, who like his father served in the Royal Artillery, during the Second World War.

Frank Coolings Home Guard uniform will go under the hammer on in Aylsham on November 28. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art AuctioneersFrank Coolings Home Guard uniform will go under the hammer on in Aylsham on November 28. Picture: Andy Newman/Keys Fine Art Auctioneers

First Word War Items On Sale

The letters of Frank Cooling are not the only Great War items set to go under the hammer at the Winter Fine Sale at Keys salesrooms. Other lots include the British War Medal and Victory Medal belonging to Private S J Smithson, of the Norfolk Regiment; a group of three First World War medals belonging to Private W Beasley, Essex Regiment, together with a wound letter and other items; and seven medals to Major General Arthur William Purser of the Royal Field Artillery. There are also medals belonging to Private A J Powell, with photographs, a Queen Mary Christmas 1914 tin and a hand written letter listing movements from 1914 to 1919

On the Home Front

The Home Guard in Norfolk was formed in April 1940 after the fall of France. It started by being village units, which were put together in platoons, companies and battalions.

Many included officers and men who had fought in the First World War. With the very real threat of a German invasion, by the middle of 1943 there were 17 Norfolk Home Guard battalions, including the 10th (Norwich City) Battalion which Frank Cooling joined.

The Home Guard, subsequently the inspiration for Norfolk-filmed Dad’s Army, has originally been formed as the Local Defence Volunteers and was primarily responsible for guarding coastal areas and factories from invasion.

• More details about the sale can be found at keysauctions.co.uk

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