Rare Boer War envelope sheds light on history

Boer War..A commanding officer directing the deployment of troops
Boer War..A commanding officer directing the deployment of troops

An envelope sent by a Halifax soldier from Africa during the Boer War to a Sowerby Bridge-born friend in 1900 is expected to fetch between £200 and £250 at an auction next week.

The letter originally inside the envelope from Trooper Frank Lewin of the 23rd (Lancashire)Company, 8th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry, vanished sometime ago.

Fortunately he scribbled his name and regimental details in the bottom left hand corner of the envelope, otherwise the story of the envelope might have been lost forever.

Frank Lewin survived the horrors and hardship of the Boer War, only to be hit by a triple family tragedy when he returned home to his beloved Halifax, where he spent much of his life.

On July 26, 1906, he married sweetheart Ida Williams and they had two children, Elsie and Roy. Elsie died in August, 1907, aged three months and Roy died in December, 1910, aged nine months.

The following year Ida was a patient in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Llanbedr, Wales.

She died at home in Halifax on March 1 1912 at the age of 27.

But within months of Ida’s death, heartbroken Frank Lewin met and fell in love with a Scarborough barmaid named Elizabeth Winkfield who was 14 years younger than Frank.

They married in Scarborough on October 4, 1913, and had four sons.

Then Frank Lewin went off to fight in the First World War.

From 1916 he was a temporary captain with the West Yorkshire Regiment.

Amazingly, he also survived the carnage of the Great War before returning once again to Halifax, where he died on March 27, 1957, at the age of 77.

At different times, Frank Lewin lived at 84 Savile Park Road, Halifax, (where he was living with his widowed mother Elizabeth in 1911), with first wife Ida he lived at 20 Manor Drive, Halifax, and later he lived at 18 Ventnor Terrace, Halifax.

Before and between the wars, Frank Lewin was a patent agent, which may explain why he sent the letter to friend Thomas Barron, for Mr Barron was also a patent agent.

According to the 1901 Census, Mr Barron and his wife Annie were both born in Sowerby Bridge, so these friends were very much West Yorkshiremen.

Frank Lewin’s envelope is among more than four hundred rare Boer War envelopes and stamps lovingly assembled by the late Harry Birkhead, who until his death last year was honorary life president of the Philatelic Federation of South Africa.

Mr Birkhead’s collection, of which the Frank Lewin envelope is part, is expected to fetch around £170,000 at Spink auctioneers in Bloomsbury, London, on March 12.

A spokeperson ffom Spink said: “Mr Birkhead formed the finest and most comprehensive collection of mail relating to the sieges of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and the local or ‘town’ stamp issues of the war ever brought together.”