Leek’s Chocolate Soldier


Heritage Room Exhibition.

Ted Hassall, a soldier, serving in the trenches during the First World War, picked up a Nestlé’s chocolate bar wrapping. On the inner side of the wrapper was written ‘From Little Joan of Whiterock Wadebridge’. Ted wrote to Little Joan in appreciation. So began Ted’s correspondence with the Burbidge family giving his moving accounts of a soldier’s experience.

The Leek and District Historical Society exhibition in the Heritage Room at the Foxlowe has been compiled by Richard Benefer and Bill Cawley. It is a gripping and engaging exhibition about the ordinary life of an ordinary man who was born in Leek, but whose trajectory of experience exemplifies the devastation and waste of war. What Ben and Bill have done in this masterly account is engage with the wider picture of Ted’s life, the changes in Leek, Ted’s life in Cape Town, the Boer War, his eventual return to Leek and his enlisting to fight in the First World War.

Ted’s last letter contained the words: “As a people we are called on to remember The Glorious Dead. Let everyone remember the great sacrifice for the betterment of mankind, not merely the fortunate few, and that their wish would be that their old comrades would be fairly treated and live in reasonable comfort until their final ‘Last Post’.”

This exhibition is a compelling read of chance and circumstance. It is to be hoped it will result in a book one day, to add to the archive of the Imperial War Museum documentary made by the BBC on Leek’s ‘Chocolate Soldier’.