Anguished father's pleas over missing son

The tragic consequences of conflict were felt in all too many homes during World War One. But the tragedy was heightened for those who were never told officially what had happened to a beloved son. Such was the situation facing Luton father Alfred Snoxell - but he was determined to get as close to the truth as he possibly could over his son's fate.

On October 6th, 1914, The Luton News carried a brief report under the heading "Lutonian wounded and missing" about the inclusion of Driver Percy Snoxell (pictured), of the 68th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, in the latest casualty list from the front. The report said the official notification sent to his father did not state when or where his son was wounded.

It was a desperate lack of meaningful information for his anguished father Alfred, of 84 Grange Road (now St Peter's Road), Luton. And by January there was still no further details of what had happened to Percy - the Army Records office had even just written to say that no further information had come to hand.

So Alfred turned to The Luton News in a final desperate effort to find out more. And within two weeks he had most of the answers he was seeking even though - as was all too often the case - the news was not good. While there might still be a glimmer of hope, his son was most likely dead.

Knowing that The Luton News went out each week to a considerable number of Bedfordshire men at the front, Mr Snoxell appealed in the January 28th, 1915, edition for the information he had been unable to obtain elsewhere. A photograph of Percy was also printed.

By February 28th there were two replies. The first was from an unnamed gunner whose Luton address was 51 Ashton Road. It read:

"Being a resident of Luton, and having the News sent to me weekly, I saw in the paper the photograph of your son, whose whereabouts you are seeking information. I am a gunner in the R.F.A. and I think I can inform you, as no doubt you are fully aware according to the information that you have already received, that he was very seriously wounded the first day he came into action with the battery at a place in the vicinity of Ligny on the 25th August.

"He was standing between his two horses when a shell burst close over him, killing one of his horses and wounding the other, and a splinter of the shell caught your son, Percy Snoxell, in the head, making a terrible wound. He was at once attended to and taken to a temporary hospital in the village close by, but we were soon forced to retire, and we were unable to take him with us as the wound was too dangerous to allow him to be moved.

"About half an hour after we left, the place was in possession of the enemy, but I am sorry to say that in my opinion your son was too badly wounded to recover, especially in German hands, for no doubt you heard of the brutal way in which they treated our wounded at the commencement of the campaign.

"I am very much afraid your son is dead. I may be wrong, I hope I am. But I assure you everything possible was done for him and, if I am fortunate enough to return to Luton, I hope to see your personally and then I can explain more clearly."

The second letter received by Mr Snoxell came from Bombardier E. J. Bartlett, also of the 68th Battery, R.F.A. He wrote:

"On August 26th we were in a village called Ligny, under heavy shell fire, when your son got mortally wounded whilst standing by his horses. I removed him out of the way in an unconscious condition and went in search of an ambulance or medical assistance.

"Not finding any of these at the time I returned to your son and found him able to speak. I asked him to let me bandage him, which he refused, and said he was too far gone. Shortly afterwards an ambulance came and, with the assistance of another man now in Birmingham Hospital, we put him in an ambulance. Your son became unconscious and since then I have not seen or heard anything of him.

"Not long after we left the village it was in the hands of the enemy. I do not think there was much hope of your son recovering as he had a nasty wound through the top of his head. He either got captured by the enemy or must have passed away in the ambulance.

"The R.A.M.C., who had more than they could attend to that day, may not have taken off his identity disc. If he got captured and is still alive, it is quite likely he is unable to write yet as the wound he received was enough to keep him weak and unable to write for months, so you must not give up hope."

Even these letters from men at the scene could not confirm for sure the likely probability that Percy had died from his ghastly wound. And perhaps it is not so surprising that with the chaos around them the two writers did not agree on the date.

Probably Alfred Snoxell had to accept a grim reality over Percy's fate, but at least he knew more about his son's final hours than the War Office could give him.

The official record is that Driver Percy Glifford Snoxell, 59028, was killed in action in France on August 26th, 1914. He is one of 3,740 officers and men of the British Expeditionary Force commemorated on the La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial on the banks of the River Marne, about 40 miles east of Paris.