A BASINGSTOKE lady had been clearing some things from her stepmother’s home when she came across a box containing medals and other items. They had not belonged to her family, she thought of my interest in the Great War, and sent them to me.

Opening the box, I spotted familiar items...two sets of First World War medals to two soldiers, named ‘Crowther’ of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), a box of Second World War medals, a DLI cap badge, silver war badge, de-mob certificate and two 1917 dated King’s shillings.

Here too were two other items, a Belgian 20F note and a postcard of a very familiar cemetery at Passchendaele, both dating from the 1970s. I had seen these before on my own first trip to Ypres in 1979. Without looking any further, I could already guess the story behind these items - one that I discovered that simply had to be told.

David Valentine and Archibald (Archie) Crowther were born in 1898 and 1899 respectively in Denbighshire, Wales. However by 1911, they, their widowed father and older sister had moved to Bradford and were living in De Grey Street, off Otley Road.

Both David and Archie were much too young to enlist when the First World War came in 1914, however as the war continued and, with the onset of conscription, it was probable that at some stage they would have to go.

For David, this came in February 1916, days short of his 18th birthday. He attested and was accepted to serve in the DLI. At 5ft 7in, he would be taller than many but he lacked the physique required to train successfully as a soldier.

In July 1916, David would be released from his training and placed on the Reserve with the DLI and told to report back in May 1917 when he would be 19, hopefully physically more suited for training.

Time passed. In March 1917 Archie, still only 17, volunteered to serve, stating he was a year older. At 5ft 11in, Archie was much bigger than his older brother and was duly accepted. He too would be sent to the DLI for training.

Archie’s plan had worked - he and David would now train together and serve together when David rejoined the DLI in May. Archie would look after his ‘little’, but older, brother.

However, the secret of Archie’s true age came out. Whether this had been their father or even from David himself, Archie too would now be held back until he too was 19. Consequently, David went out to France alone and joined the 20th Bn. DLI at Ypres in July 1917.

A matter of weeks later, the 20th DLI were involved in the opening attacks of ‘Third Ypres’. They had supported the attack close to Hill 60, one of the few successes this day. David would come through successfully. In August, the battalion were brought out of the line to rebuild and train for a second attack. This attack would duly take place on September 21, close to ‘Tower Hamlets’, a notorious spot.

On the day itself, the attack had proceeded with mixed results, but the following day the Germans had counter-attacked and forced the 20th DLI back to their starting point. Conditions in the Passchendaele mud were awful. It was as a result of that counter-attack that David was reported ‘Missing in Action’. His death was presumed officially some days later.

The reaction to David’s death by the Crowther family can only be imagined today...for Archie, who had so desperately wanted to look after his brother, this news must have been devastating beyond words.

Time would again pass. The German Spring Offensive began in March 1918. Within weeks, troops were rushed out to stem the retreat. Archie, still not yet 19, was sent out to France in April. He too would join the 20th DLI. This time good fortune placed the battalion at Ypres, defending the city practically from its ramparts. Here they would remain through the summer of 1918.

By August, the tide of war had turned for the final time. Just after the anniversary of David’s death, Archie and the 20th DLI would stage another supporting attack at Hill 60. Archie, like David, would survive this successful attack. In October 1918, as part of a general advance, the 20th DLI would join in a large scale attack.

Moving up to their ‘jumping off’ positions, older soldiers in Archie’s platoon would have recognised the area well - this was ‘Tower Hamlets’ once more, where many had been lost the previous year including Archie’s brother, David.

The attack on October 14 was a resounding success, there had been little resistance and the advance had been unprecedented by ‘Third Ypres’ standards, the objective had been captured by noon. But there had been casualties, one was Archie Crowther, shot in the chest... Archie was taken back to England, where he would recover from his wounds and be discharged home in 1919.

Through his life, Archie never forgot his brother, David. Archie had a life-long ambition, one that was only realised in the final months of his life.

In 1975, Archie returned to Ypres. He would re-visit the scenes he had known well from 1918. And Archie too would make a special trip to Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele. Here on the Memorial to the Missing, containing over 30,000 names, were the names of some of his comrades of the DLI, and indeed his brother, David Valentine Crowther, whose body was never identified a final farewell...and a postcard to take home.

In the box too was a group of WW2 medals, these were not named, but the box they had been originally sent in was. This now involved a trip back to visit the lady, Charmian Harrison, who had kindly thought of me to give me this box. I told her the story of David and Archie Crowther, whose medals and other items had been in this box. Unknowing, she told me of her grandfather who had served in the Great War too, but also had been a prisoner of war. She also told me of her father who had fought in WW2 and had landed in Normandy in 1944. Beyond this she knew nothing of their stories. I handed over the box of WW2 medals back to her; they were indeed her father’s medals. She had never seen them before, and 24 hours later I was able to give the lady her grandfather’s story from WW1, part of his service had been with Bradford’s Territorials 2/6th Bn. West Yorks.

David, Archie and their sister, Elsie, have now passed away. Archie and Elsie did marry, but sadly, neither had children.

There are no known photographs of David or Archie in uniform. This box and these medals I will now look after and I will be able to tell the story of these two young Bradford ‘boys’ to others... two brothers who loved, and did their best for each other.

* David Whithorn is the President of Bus to Bradford, which commemorates men from the district who served in the First World War. The group is named after a village in northern France, Bus-les-Artois, affectionately known as ‘Bus’ by the Bradford Pals who were billeted there in summer 1916 before marching to the Somme.

In 2016, on the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, members of Bus to Bradford unveiled a Bradford Pals memorial in the village.