Fascinating postcards exchanged by wartime lovers are unearthed

Paul Tooth with some of the postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland to Lily May Ottaway

Paul Tooth with postcards from Frank Joseph Crossland to Lily May Ottaway. They were sent from France to Dereham during the First World War in 1917 - Credit: Denise Bradley

Back in 2020, Paul Tooth was perusing eBay listings when he spotted an intriguing auction.

The batch of postcards - written during the First World War - appeared interesting on first glance, and Mr Tooth discovered they had links to his hometown of Dereham. 

The three sets of four wartime postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland to his sweetheart Lily May Ottaway

The three sets of four wartime postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland to his sweetheart Lily May Ottaway - Credit: Denise Bradley

They were exchanged between Lily May Ottaway and her husband-to-be, Frank Crossland, who was stationed in France with the Royal Flying Corps during the war. 

Desperate to ensure they went to a good home, the Windmill Avenue resident leapt into action and won the fascinating item for around £25.

"My wife and I have always been interested in genealogy and we have traced our own family history," said Mr Tooth.

A postcard sent in 1917 to Lily May Ottaway by Frank Crossland

A postcard sent in 1917 to Lily May Ottaway by Frank Crossland, who mentions the slightly soiled mark because the card has "been in the war" - Credit: Denise Bradley

"I was on eBay one day and this just came up. This guy on the other side of the country was selling them, and I just feared them getting lost. 

"For me, anything like that is priceless. One has even got dirt on it, and Frank apologises in the letter for it being soiled with French mud."

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Determined to carry out further investigations, Mr Tooth set about reading the postcards from top to bottom after receiving them in the post. 

Postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland in 1917 from France, to his sweetheart Lily May Ottaway in Dereham 

Postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland in 1917 from France, to his sweetheart Lily May Ottaway in Dereham - Credit: Denise Bradley

Despite them all having different dates, it was clear they had been sent across the channel in four different batches between April and June 1917.

Mr Tooth surmised that the couple had one child, named Freddie, who it appeared had been born out of wedlock - a rare occurrence during this era.

Miss Ottaway had been working during the war in a shop in Dereham High Street, where she also lived. 

Paul Tooth with some of the postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland to Lily May Ottaway

Paul Tooth with postcards from Frank Joseph Crossland to Lily May Ottaway. They were sent from France to Dereham during the First World War in 1917 - Credit: Denise Bradley

Further research helped him to discover that they were married in November 2017, before the family decided upon a life-changing move to the opposite side of the globe. 

"Frank had been writing to his beloved to his beloved Lily-May, who worked in the local town shop," added Mr Tooth.

"They got married in the end and I've managed to trace that they actually went off to Australia. I've been in contact with one of the grandchildren and sent him copies of the postcards."

One of the three sets of four postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland to Lily May Ottaway

One of the three sets of four postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland to Lily May Ottaway - Credit: Denise Bradley

Now, Mr Tooth is hoping to track down relatives who might still be in Dereham.

"These people are of no relation to me, but it would be lovely if someone in this area had a link to them and was interested."

A copy of the marriage certificate of Frank Joseph Crossland and Lily May Ottaway from Dereham

A copy of the marriage certificate of Frank Joseph Crossland and Lily May Ottaway from Dereham - Credit: Denise Bradley

Postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland in 1917 from France, to his sweetheart Lily May Ottaway in Dereham 

Postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland in 1917 from France, to his sweetheart Lily May Ottaway in Dereham - Credit: Denise Bradley

One of the postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland during the First World War, in which talks about the "champion" weather

One of the postcards sent by Frank Joseph Crossland during the First World War, in which talks about the "champion" weather - Credit: Denise Bradley