When Charles Culley’s father, also Charles, returned from World War One it was not his medals he had framed, but a tobacco tin.
Charles, 89, can remember seeing the medals in a drawer as a child, but has no idea what happened to them. But his father had the tin and a pipe, sent to men in the trenches by Princess Alexandra at Christmas 1914, framed along with cards sent to him there.
Charles junior, who moved to Bury St Edmunds from Ipswich with his parents in 1960, said: “I don’t know whether he was proud of it, but I suppose he was because the frame was in the living room for years and years.”
When his parents died, Charles’ unmarried brother and sister took over the house and offered the frame to him.
“Looking back I’m so pleased I took it,” he said. “I don’t know what would have happened to it if I hadn’t had it..”
Charles Culley senior volunteered in 1914 and joined the Suffolk regiment’s 1/4th Battalion, which was a Territorial Army unit based at Portman Road, Ipswich. They landed at Le Havre in November 1914.
By the time the battalion arrived, the Suffolks had already taken part in the retreat from Mons and the battles that followed. The fourth were there in time for the First Battle of Ypres. Charles’ medal card still exists and shows he had the usual WW1 trio of the 1914 Star, Great War Medal and Victory Medal, which he returned to be corrected because it was engraved ‘Curry’.
Charles junior recalls: “He said the volunteers were taught to fire a rifle, then they were on the front line. It was as quick as that.”
His father did not open up to him about his war even when the son joined the Royal Navy in 1943, which upset his mother whose brother had been killed at sea in WW1. Charles junior says he only recalls his father speaking of ‘one or two incidents’.
“He used to play an accordion and he said when there was a lull a German used to call over ‘give us a tune Tommy’,” Charles said.
“But he said if you put your hand up above the trench, it would get shot off.”
He is proud of his father, who died of cancer at 60, and wishes he had his medals so on special occasions he could wear them on his right breast, opposite his own medals.
Charles added: “I had thought of giving the frame to the Suffolk Regiment museum, but both my sons want to keep it in the family.”
If you had a relative who served in World War One, including as a nurse, contact John Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01285 757821.