As shaving mirrors go, it’s fairly unremarkable, but to the descendants of Sheffield soldier Thomas Marston it means the world.
Without this sliver of steel, given to a young Thomas by the Sheffield Telegraph’s owners during the First World War, they probably wouldn’t exist.
It was in his shirt pocket when he was struck in the chest by a German bullet during the summer of 1918.
While the mirror did not stop the bullet passing through his body and out the other side, his family believe the gift deflected it away from his heart and helped him cheat death.
They treasure the mirror, which is engraved with the message ‘best of luck for 1918 from the readers of the Sheffield Telegraph’ and still bears the bullet hole.
For them, it is both a memento of his remarkably close shave, if you will pardon the pun, and a tangible reminder of the horrors endured by troops during the war.
Thomas’ grandson Roger Betts recalls his sense of wonderment as a young boy upon hearing the tale from his grandmother Florence after asking her about the damaged mirror he saw stashed in a cupboard at her council home on Herries Road.
The heirloom and the story behind it have been shared with subsequent generations, but until now the details had been hazy – not helped by Thomas’ reluctance to talk about his wartime exploits.
However, they have finally traced an article in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star of September 23, 1918, which fills in some of the gaps.
The story, headlined ‘A Sheffield Soldier’s Wonderful Escape’, tells how Lance-Corporal Marston, of the York and Lancaster Regiment, had just been discharged from hospital.
It details how he had been one of thousands of men to receive one of the polished steel mirrors from the Sheffield Telegraph, a gift he ‘prized’ and had carried with him since the day it was presented.
The article goes on to say how about seven weeks ago, he came under fire from machine guns while taking part in an ‘important attack’ and was struck by a bullet as he approached enemy lines.
“It went through his pocket book, through his steel mirror, through his chest and out at his back,” reads the report.
Despite the severity of his injury, by the time the article was published he was already convalescing at his home on Chester Street and ‘almost ready for taking up light duty again’.
Roger told how his grandfather, who worked for British Steel and had four children, made the most of his remarkable reprieve – surviving until his early 70s and leading a ‘happy-go-lucky’ existence.
“I remember hearing the story as a boy and being amazed by how this mirror, which he used when shaving in the trenches, had saved his life. It's great to finally find the newspaper article and fill in the missing pieces in the story.”
Roger’s granddaughter Mica Joynes, a 27-year-old hairdresser living in Meersbrook, said: “It’s an amazing story and it’s nice to have this as a memento of what he did during the war.
“I think it’s important to remember the sacrifices of those who served during the wars. If you go to other countries, they make such a fuss of their armed forces, but we just don’t.”
Lee Betts, Thomas’ great-grandson, said the mirror had fascinated him since he was a boy, adding: “We're all very proud and thankful of my great grandfather and his trusty old mirror.”