BARNARD CASTLE, England —
"I am commanded by the queen to thank you for your letter of the 16th instant, and to request you to be good enough to convey to Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Bridgegate, Barnard Castle, an expression of Her Majesty's deep sympathy with them in the sad losses they have sustained by the death of their five sons.
"The Queen has caused Mr. and Mrs. Smith's request concerning their youngest son to be forwarded for consideration of the War Office authorities."
So Wilfred went home to Barnard Castle — though little is known about exactly how that came about. He suffered the lingering respiratory effects of a mustard gas attack and newspaper reports suggested he was temporarily blinded. But once home, he worked as a chimney sweep and a stone mason.
At the Bowes Museum, a memorial was erected to residents who fell in the Great War, including Wilfred's brothers. His mother laid the first wreath at its dedication in 1923 — chosen by the war veterans for the honor. Wilfred was at her side.
He went on to become a devoted husband, father and grandfather who liked to laugh and took joy in simple things. His granddaughter, Amanda Nelson, recalls going to his home for lunch on weekends, where he would delight the little ones by racing snails or other bits of silliness.
His daughter Dianne Nelson said he doted on her and that, as the youngest, she got away with everything.
Now 70, she said her reserved father never talked about his experiences in the war, even when she needed to write a childhood essay on the topic and asked him to tell her about it. The family had heard about the queen and the letter, but it was simply a hazy oral tradition.
Amanda Nelson made a point of seeing the Steven Spielberg film, "Saving Private Ryan." The 1998 Oscar-winning film depicts the fictional account of a World War II rescue mission for a single American soldier whose brothers have been killed in the fighting.