Private Thomas William Brightwell (known as “William”) was born in Norwich, England, into a large family of 13 children. Few details about his life prior to the war are known, but he was by then a father – his son Herbert was born on November 11th, 1913.
He enlisted on August 26th, 1914, with the Norfolk Regiment, British Expeditionary Force, and by the fall of that year he was overseas on active service in the trenches in France. Information on his Medal Card held by the British National Archives shows he was discharged on December 24th of 1917 under Army Order 265 (the Order applicable to soldiers discharged for reasons of illness or injury).
There are two letters in the Brightwell collection, both written to his sister Ethel Victoria Brightwell. Ethel had emigrated to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in 1914, and it is through her family that the letters have been passed down over the years. There is also a photo of William’s brother Herbert Brightwell who served in the Navy during the war (William writes of Herbert’s experiences aboard the H.M.S. Glasgow in his first letter).
The remarkable letter of February 6th, 1915, is a rare Christmas Truce letter, containing Pte. Brightwell’s firsthand account of a Christmas Day spent together with the German soldiers from the trenches across from their own.
Information on Private Brightwell’s Service Record (Serv/Reg# 3/8149) with the British Expeditionary Force is not available.
Brightwell’s Medal Card can be accessed through the British National Archives’ Medal Card Index, but requires the creation of a free user account.