Silver cigarette case which stopped bullet hitting First World War soldier from Derbyshire set to fetch thousands at auction

A silver cigarette case which stopped a bullet hitting a First World War soldier from Derbyshire is set to fetch thousands of pounds at auction.

The beautifully engraved tin was given to Second-Lieutenant William Alexander Lytle by his wife before he headed off to war.

The 21-year-old kept the case in his breast pocket while he fought in the trenches between 1914 and 1918.

Incredibly, during a fierce gun battle with the Germans, he was shot in the chest but survived when the case took the full impact of the bullet.

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Second-Lieutenant Lytle served with the 1/6th Battalion Notts & Derbyshire Regiment, Sherwood Forester, and went on to be awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

He also went on to serve in World War Two where he received the Edward VII Volunteer Long Service Medal.

The dented cigarette case, along with a secret note attached to the back of it, was unearthed by his family in Derbyshire.

The note reads: “This silver cigarette case was given by my mother to my father during the 1914-18 war.

“He carried it with him in the trenches in his breast pocket where it was struck by a spent bullet. He was unharmed – JE Lytle.”

The case and the note are now going under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers on November 22.

Adrian Stevenson, militaria expert at Hansons, said: “Many soldiers kept hard objects in the breast pockets of their army uniforms in a bid to protect themselves from enemy fire.

“Cigarette cases, shaving mirrors and pocket Bibles were popular.

“A bullet potentially heading for the heart could be stopped in its tracks by objects such as this, particularly if it was reaching the end of its trajectory

“Consequently, these objects have gained historical significance.

“They provide us with an insight into how young men who lived a century ago dealt with the grave dangers faced in the trenches in the war to end all wars.”

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In March, a penny which saved a First World War soldier’s life – kept in his breast pocket and bent by a bullet - sold for £4,500.

Mr Stevenson said: “This latest find emerged by chance. I had assessed an impressive set of wartime medals earned by Second-Lieutenant William Alexander Lytle from Bakewell.

“They were initially heading into our November Medals and Militaria Auction with a guide price of £800- £1,000.

“However, after cataloguing the items, I decided to ask the family if they had a picture of William.

“Happily, they found one and, during their search, came across his battered silver cigarette case.

“It had taken the full force of a bullet – all explained in the note tucked inside.

“The family doubted it was worth anything but the addition of the cigarette case to the medals enabled me to increase the guide price to £1,000-£2,000.”

A newspaper cutting from the Derbyshire Advertiser, dated December 24, 1915, reported he had been awarded a Military Cross.

It stated that he received it “for excellent work on several occasions, notably on November 26, 1915, near Boar’s Head Trench.”

The article went on: “He organised and carried out a bomb attack with great ability and collected valuable information regarding the enemy.

“He was finally forced to withdraw before superior numbers but not before he had thrown 95 bombs (grenades) and inflicted serious loss on the Germans.

“He showed great judgement in withdrawing his casualties, being only one man missing and three wounded. Second-Lieut Lytle has shown a total disregard for danger and leads his grenadiers with great coolness.”

Mr Stevenson added: “When you consider William’s age when he carried out these actions, it brings home the immense bravery of a generation of young men who took up arms for our country.

“Some 886,000 British military personal lost their lives in the First World War.

“Thousands more survived but suffered terrible injuries and mental anguish.”

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As well as his Military Cross, Second-Lieutentant Lytle was also presented with a War Medal, Victory Medal, World War Two Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45 and Edward VII Volunteer Long Service Medal.

Mr Stevenson said: “William fought in two world wars – he gave his all for us all.

“It’s wonderful to think that a silver cigarette case, a gift given with love from his wife, may well have saved his life.”

The medals and silver cigarette case will be sold on November 22.