INTERESTING what you can find hidden between the pages of a secondhand book...

Leafing through an old book, bought from a charity shop, Janet Spears discovered a 100-year-old ‘bereavement silk’ with a Bradford connection.

“I found it years ago and during a recent clear-out I re-discovered it among my papers. I began to wonder if the name ‘Whaites’ is still in the Bradford or Shipley area,” says Janet, of Ackton, Pontefract. “It is dated 1917 - a hundred years ago - and this was someone killed in the First World War.”

The name on the bereavement silk, which was found inside an old envelope, is Jim, ‘dearly loved husband of Hilda Whaites’, of Thompson Street, Shipley. It says Jim was killed in action on April 17, 1917, aged 29.

“I have never come across such an item complete with the envelope before,” says Mrs Spears. “I wondered if there members of the family out there who would like to have the bereavement silk. It is slightly damaged below the family name and address, due to it being folded for so many years, but you can make the name and age clearly. The black edged envelope is quite damaged, but complete.

“It would give me great satisfaction to return it to its rightful place.”

Adds Mrs Spears: “If the family cannot be traced, and no claim is made, maybe the silk could go to a local museum in Bradford, or in an archive relating to World War 1.”

Bereavement silks, or memorial silks as they were also known, date back to the Victorian era but were produced in particularly prolific fashion during the First World War. They were kept by families as a way of remembering loved ones, so many of whom lost their lives in the mud in France and never came home.

Tricia Restorick, president of Bradford World War 1 Group, says: "Bereavement silks were fairly common in WW1, and probably in civilian life prior to the war. A silk was given to me last year while I was trying to track down women in uniform. Hilda Mitchell died serving with QMAAC (Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps) at Brocton PoW Camp. She is buried at Utley Cemetery. The verse on the silk reads: "Gently! She is sleeping. She has breathed her last. Gently! While we're weeping She to heaven has passed."

"These silks tend to survive intact, without deteriorating."

The silk strips were made from the late 19th century onwards and were displayed during mourning periods, often alongside remembrance cards. Before the onset of war memorials and war cemeteries, and with no funeral or grave in a local churchyard to mark the passing of husbands, sons, brothers and sweethearts, these strips of material were the way that loved ones were remembered during the First World War. Often used as bookmarks in Bibles and hymn books, the silks featured verses and inscriptions.

The verse chosen by Jim Whaites’ wife, Hilda, sends her love across the Channel to the French field where he lay:

“In a far distant land though his body may rest, far away from the ones he loved best, still deep in my heart, his memory I’ll keep, Sweet is the place where he lies asleep”.

* To be put in touch with Mrs Spears, email

Emma Clayton