“ABOUT 18 years ago, my wife and I rented a cottage for a week over Christmas in Mickleton in Teesdale,” writes Rob Hope from Eastbourne on the south coast.

They visited one of the antique shops on the Bank in Barnard Castle where Rob, a First World War enthusiast, spotted a battered old frame with a picture of a soldier in it and some silk postcards. It piqued Rob’s interest.

“The embroidery of postcards and the envelopes was a cottage industry carried on during the war by French and Belgian women and girls,” he says. “They were sold to the Tommies for a few sou so the soldiers could write letters home to loved ones.”

The envelopes bore messages like "To my Mother", "Do not Forget Me" and "John Bull is Ready". One card said: "From Tom".

The owner of the shop said it had come from a local house clearance, and after a Bargain Hunt style haggle, Rob walked out with the frame under his arm.

Back home in Sussex, he investigated further and found short letters in the embroidered envelopes. He learned that the soldier’s full name was Tom Carter and he served with the 16th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, which was known as the Church Lads’ Brigade as its members were recruited from within the Anglican youth movement.

“So I had a name to put to the photograph,” he says. “I had access to the Kew Public Records Office so looked for any info on his military service. Three quarters or more of First World War military records were lost in the blitz of the Second World War, so I wasn't expecting a result.

“Imagine my excitement when a fat A4 envelope landed on my doormat one morning. I had all of Tom’s military history.

“He was 18 years old when he enlisted in 1917. He lived at 6 Ramsey Street, West Hartlepool. He was a junior clerk at a timber importers, Thomas Walter & Co Ltd, and went to the Western Front as a signaller.

“After his medical examination, the army doctor wrote: ‘Height 5ft 4ins. Chest when expanded 34ins. Some toes overlap, but he says this does not concern him in the least.”

“His records also show that in 1918, he suffered "shell shock" – which we’d know as post-traumatic stress disorder – and he came home for three months.

“By June 1918, he was back with rifles corps, but attached to headquarters, rather than going to the front, so he was obviously still affected by his trauma.

“He was demobbed in 1919, and there was a letter from his former employer, Thomas Walter, saying they wished to re-employ him (brilliant!).

“There my story ended for the next 16 years until this October when I registered with a genealogy website and started to see if I could find Tom. Did his PTSD hold him back? Did he marry? Were there children? Are they any family out there?

“But every route I went down ended in a dead end…”

And so he wondered if anyone else could tell him any more about this Hartlepool soldier with a Teesdale connection. Can you? Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk if you can.

A SIMILAR theme but a different war. A group of interested people in the Netherlands have adopted the grave of Private Charles Coates who lies in Nederweert War Cemetery.

Charles, the son of Charles and Isabella Coates of Bishop Auckland, was 24 when he was killed on November 15, 1944, serving with the 1/7th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.

Nederweert is a town with a population of 17,000 on the junction of three canals. It was liberated by the British on September 21, 1944, although the frontline remained nearby until November, with soldiers dying under enemy shelling and in minefields – the unfortunate Charles would seem to have been one of them.

On his headstone is a very North-East inscription: “A dear son and brother sadly missed by mam, dad, brothers & sisters. Ever in our thought”.

The group which has adopted the grave would like to trace any of Charles’ relatives – please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk if you can help.