On April 9 1918, 29-year-old Theo Chadburn, a miner from Sheffield, wrote to his wife Lily.

He was a Serjeant in the 13th Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, serving in France.

His letters home on creamy, lined paper, were all written in pencil, and end with a row of kisses. This was to be his last. Three days later he was killed, it is thought rescuing colleagues from a burning building. His body was never found.

‘I am daily thinking of you,’ he wrote to Lily and his six-year-old daughter May, ‘and constantly hoping and trusting God for the reunion, may he grant us that privilege.

‘I believe that I have still a work to do for him and my mind is broader. I believe that every day I learn more of his goodness and am waiting his pleasure to be able to do a work for him in conjunction with my dearest wife.’

Heartbreakingly, this letter arrived home after Theo’s death. At first, Lily thought he had been taken prisoner.

It was to be a year later, after the war had ended, in April 1919, that she received a letter from the War Office. It read, ‘It is not thought that any hope can now be entertained that Serjeant Chadburn has survived and steps will shortly be taken to consider the question of the presumption of his death.’

Theo, like all his family, was a member of the Salvation Army in Sheffield, playing in the band at weekends. He wrote from the front of his ‘privilege’ to be at a Salvation Army meeting less than a fortnight before his death.

‘The place was packed with soldiers and there were about 150 fellows who made the necessary decision,’ he says, of men committing themselves to God.

‘I tell you,’ he wrote to Lily, ‘it was the best Easter Sunday night meeting I have ever spent. I was greatly blessed.’

His tiny black leather-bound diary from 1917 contains a page from Deuteronomy 28, ripped from a larger Bible. It reads, ‘The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way and flee before thee seven ways.’

Theo’s name is engraved on the Ploegsteert Memorial at Ypres. Lily never remarried. 

Hazel Southam

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