Heroic Leeds boy soldier who refused to abandon his comrades on the battlefield - and lied about his age so he could fight

Horace Iles, the Leeds teen soldier who enlisted at the age of 14, and died at the Battle of the Somme.
Horace Iles, the Leeds teen soldier who enlisted at the age of 14, and died at the Battle of the Somme.
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A teenage soldier’s final letter home from the front lines of the First World War is going on display in Leeds ahead of Remembrance Sunday.

Horace Iles was just 14 when he signed up to fight with the famous Leeds Pals in 1914, lying about his age so he could enlist, like many other boys at the time.

Curator of Leeds City Museum Ruth Martin with the letter from Horace Iles which he sent to his sister in Leeds just days before his death in the Battle of the Somme.

Curator of Leeds City Museum Ruth Martin with the letter from Horace Iles which he sent to his sister in Leeds just days before his death in the Battle of the Somme.

On May 25, 1916, Private Iles wrote to his sister Florrie from France, where he was stationed, saying: “Just a few lines hoping to reach you in the best of health as it leaves me at present, I was discharged from hospital about two days ago. I am sorry I have not written before but I had kept putting it off but at last I have written.”

It was the last letter his family would ever receive and five weeks later, he was tragically killed on the first day of The Battle of The Somme at the age of 16.

Florrie’s reply arrived at the front two days after he was killed and was returned to her unopened.

This weekend, as the city prepares to mark Remembrance Sunday, Horace’s letter will go on display for the first time at Leeds City Museum after it was discovered by a private collector.

Horace Iles's letter to his sister Florrie.

Horace Iles's letter to his sister Florrie.

David Owen, who lives in Lincoln, had been researching the Leeds Pals for several years and found the precious correspondence amongst a box of First World War related documents and papers he recently purchased.

He contacted the museum to see if the letter could be displayed to commemorate the sacrifice of Private Iles and his fellow servicemen.

He said: “To me, Horace Iles epitomises all that was good about the Leeds Pals; patriotism, loyalty, bravery, comradeship and sacrifice.

“Horace had lied about his age to join the Pals but, despite appeals from his family, refused to declare his true age as he preferred to remain and fight with his comrades rather than be sent home to safety – such was the ‘boy’ and the bond of the men in the Leeds Pals.”

The Leeds Pals, a volunteer battalion, was hit especially hard and of the 750 members who fought that day, just 72 were uninjured by nightfall.

The Lord Mayor of Leeds councillor Jane Dowson will lead the city’s tributes on Remembrance Sunday, laying a wreath at the war memorial on Victoria Gardens.

A procession will leave Leeds Civic Hall at 10.50am and finish at Victoria Gardens where wreaths will then be laid. Before this, current and ex-service men and women will gather outside Leeds City Museum before marching to the war memorial at 10.30am.

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