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19th Nov 2018
Frank Cooling in his First World War uniform

Hundreds of letters written from the Western Front by a Norfolk soldier during the entire duration of the First World War are to go under the hammer in the county later this month, just weeks after the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which brought an end to the conflict.

Bombardier Frank Cooling, from the south Norfolk village of Hopton, between Thetford and Diss, had a long and distinguished military career, beginning with service in the Boer War, and culminating with four years spent in the 10th Norwich City Battalion of the Home Guard during World War Two.

The collection includes a poignant letter written from France on 12th November 1918, in which Bombardier Cooling writes, “The French people here seem awfully excited over the news [of the Armistice]”.

The letters from France and Belgium are the centrepiece of an extraordinary collection of memorabilia from his military service, including medals, uniforms, photographs and documents – all of which will be up for auction at Keys Fine Art Auctioneers in Aylsham on Wednesday 28th November as part of their three day Winter Fine Sale.

The constant stream of correspondence was sent by the soldier to his family back in Hopton, where it is believed they ran a grocer’s shop.  The hundreds of missives range from heavily-censored ‘I am quite well’ postcards to pages-long handwritten letters.

“This is an amazing record of one Norfolk soldier’s war, right from the very start through to the Armistice,” said Andrew Lindsay-Bullock of Keys Fine Art Auctioneers, who catalogued the collection.

“I’m always pleased when I find out I have got a survivor – more soldiers lived through the whole war than most people realise.

“In any war mail gets censored so that it doesn’t reveal anything of military interest, and Cooling’s letters would have been vetted in this way.  Interestingly, in World War One officers censored their own mail, so you will often find material in their letters which would have led to a court martial if it had been included in the correspondence of an ordinary soldier.”

After serving in the 1899-1902 Boer War and throughout World War One, Frank Cooling joined the 10th Norwich City Battalion of the Home Guard in 1940, remaining a member until it was disbanded in December 1944.

Also in the collection are the medals, uniforms, letters and other items owned by Frank Cooling’s son Norman Cooling, who like his father served in the Royal Artillery, during World War Two.

The collection will go under the hammer on Wednesday 28th November at Keys Fine Art Auctioneers’ Aylsham salerooms.  More details can be found at www.keysauctions.co.uk.