A Letter From the Dead

Two weeks ago, I received a message on my blog:


Seeing as my blog seems to be so hard to Google, let alone be found by some sort of relative, I proceeded with caution.

Email 1

Turns out this dude is the great-grandson of Thomas Tozer – my great great uncle – and his cousin has been doing a lot of research into his family. He wanted to find out if I had any more information about Thomas Tozer,  but unfortunately, the information I received was from my dad’s cousin who also has been researching the Tozer family tree – and probably got his information through this guy’s cousin. I knew that Thomas was a member of the TA, and that he died following the Battle of Passchendaele – though there seems to be a discrepancy about his death date. We never knew how he died.

He found a blog post about the time I visited Thomas Tozer’s grave with my sister and friend on a WWI trip.


His response:

Email 2

Whaaaaat? A letter?


Email 3

So it was a gas attack that killed him. Did he die by gas or just during an attack? Of all the ways to die in the First World War, to most of us in the present day, this seems the most daunting. Mustard gas, for example, caused people to die a very slow and painful death; their bodies broke down both inside and out, with the skin turning into the most painful blisters and their lungs slowly eroding, effectively causing the people to drown. But that would be the worst possible conclusion.

A family letter from the war seems to be some of the most treasured possessions a modern person can have, and I have never known of any in my family, so this was very exciting for me. I asked if he would send me a copy of the letter. It’s a photocopy of a photocopy so some of it is a little illegible. It was sent to his sister Alice from Zonnebecke, which is where his grave is. And here it is (see further down for my transcription):

Thomas Tozer Letter 1 Thomas Tozer Letter 2 Thomas Tozer Letter 3

I’ve tried to write out what it says as best I can – I’ve added punctuation to make it easier to read:

“Sun 25/11/17

Dear Alice,

I now take the pleasure to write you these few lines hoping that they will find you and Albert and children in the best of health. I am fairly well myself considering the time that I have been through. I have just come out of the line. I were only in for a few days. It was my first time [illegible] and it was quite enough I can assure you. It was not being in the trenches but to get there we had to pass through a barage of shell fire to get there and the same coming out. We had several casualties but thank God I came through all right and we were told that we were heroes [?] every one. We simply followed one another like sheep going to the fold but it was a very trying time I can tell you. I have been out here a month now and the different places that I have seen are terrible to see  nothing but ruins everywhere. It is heartbreaking to see them and the sooner this terrible carnage is over the better.

Harriet* and the children are all fairly well at present but they must be feeling absence and I hope God will spare me to return to them as soon as possible but at times I dread to think of the future. Life out here is very trying at times what with the lice and the noise and the former, well, I have to have a roll call every night or else I should be overrun. Keatings powder** they seem to like for they sit upon their hind legs and ask for more and they get quite fat. Polly sent me some different stuff so I am just giving that a trial and I hope that I shall feel a bit easier.

Polly tells me that Albert was up in London the other week and that he has got a further extension and I am glad and I hope he can keep out of it. I suppose Bert is getting quite a young man now and the baby quite a big girl. My address is Pte T Tozer 38996, 2/5 East Lancs, B Coy, 8 Platoon, B.E.F. France***.

I think that this is all I have to say dear sister so hoping to have a line from you. I will close with best wishes to you all from your

affec brother Tom”

*Harriet was his wife. She remarried in 1947 and died in 1953. She’s buried with her second husband Charles John Wing in Gunnersbury cemetery

**Keating’s flea and lice powder was the staple powder the British soldiers used to try and kill off their lice – but to little avail

***B Coy = B Company, B.E.F. stands for British Expeditionary Force

4 thoughts on “A Letter From the Dead

  1. I found the disclosures on the death and letter of Tom Tozer interesting for
    I am the person who has been researching our Tozer line. I am the person who transposed the letter and placed it into a grammatical punctuations.
    Tom Tozer was my grandfather, he was baptised TOM , not Thomas.
    Where the reference to he being in the TA ( territorial Army ) comes from who knows . He was in ‘B’ company , 2 /5 East Lancastershire Regiment.
    As regards how he died and under what circumstances I have yet to established , and I don’t feel it matters. We have a close proximity to where he fell and was first buried before he was re-interred in the Duchy Farm British Cemetary on the Langemarke Road. TomTozer left a wife and six children, my father being the only male issue. His wife Harriett, married Charlie Wing, when in their 60’s (I knew him as Uncle Charlie. A dear and kindly gentleman).
    Would be interested to know your precise relationship to TOM Tozer.

  2. I would be interested to know who STEPH. is and what is her family line connection to TOM TOZER (my grandfather ) and who is the COUSIN whose been researching the Tozers. My own Tozer researchs are being finalised now ,
    And whilst i know most parties in the modern period those who are Gt Gt Grand nieces & nephews of Tom Tozer are unknown to me.
    Tom Tozer was one of nine (9) children of Thomas Tozer from Paignton and Catherine Phillips from Bridgnorth.
    Thomas’ father was William Tozer a mason and innkeeper of Paignton , Devon.
    So can we have some information please ???

    • Hi Peter,
      Apologies for not responding for so long. I’ve not blogged for a while (as you can see). My name is Stephanie Wood, my father is Stephen Wood, son to Sybil Tozer. She became Sybil Wood and then Carrington with her second marriage. I visited the grave of Tom Tozer with my sister and friend when we went on a WWI trip a few years ago now, using the information that my dad found on the family tree you created – which we were really grateful for! It was actually the tour guides who looked into your grandfather’s military background. They said they found out he was part of the TAs according to records, but I’m not sure how they discovered this. It meant so much to visit his grave. Thank you

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