Tears welled in Julie Carter’s eyes as she read a long-lost letter sent to her grandfather from a World War II battlefield 83 years ago. 

The letter contained devastating details about how her uncle, Lieutenant Sidney Edwin Thomas, had lost his life in Syria on July 7, 1941.

It also told the story of his bravery and how his men would have followed him to “hell and back”.

Julie Carter was unaware the letter existed before it was handed back to her family.(ABC News: Justin Hewitson)

Lieutenant Thomas, who had been working as a clerk in Canberra but was originally from Adelaide, had enlisted in May 1940 and served with the 2nd/27th Australian Infantry Battalion.

He had just married his sweetheart, Constance, three months before heading overseas. 

“I actually read it and started getting very emotional and tearful because of what he’d given up,” Ms Carter said.

The powerful letter was almost lost forever when Ms Carter and her family sold part of her father’s book collection after his death.

The books were bought by Greg Morse, the owner of Colonel Light Books on Goodwood Road in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.

He then discovered one of the books he had purchased, The Brown and Blue Diamond at War, about Lieutenant Thomas’ battalion, was quite rare and valuable.

The letter was found inside a book.(ABC News: Justin Hewitson)

Surprise discovery

However, it was what was inside the book that grabbed his interest. 

Mr Morse found a typed letter and began to read it. 

It was from a Sergeant R I Smith, a friend and fellow soldier.

Dear Mr Thomas, I trust you will pardon the liberty I am taking in writing to you, as you have never met or even heard of me, but it was my privilege to know Sid for many months and his wish that if ever anything happened to him that I should write to you,” the letter said. 

… I quite honestly doubt whether there has been any officer in the AIF who has been more popular with his men than he was.

He was not only popular but every man in his platoon, and later in his company, had implicit faith in him and would have followed him to hell and back with all the confidence in the world if he had said so. 

Such men as your son are far too few, I’m afraid, and are born not made.

Mr Morse said as he read the letter, he knew it had to be returned. 

“It was quite moving, and I realised as I read it that it wasn’t for me to keep,” he said.

The letter dated August 10, 1941.(ABC News: Justin Hewitson)

The book was returned to Ms Carter and her brother.

“It’s quite amazing to know that we have it back now and that we didn’t even know that it existed to start with,” Ms Carter said.

The letter had been sent to her grandfather, Edwin James Thomas, who was a World War I veteran himself, a month after Lieutenant Thomas was killed.

The heirloom then ended up with Julie’s father, who also volunteered in World War II, but was too young to serve.

“He adored his brother who was a lot older than him, but he never mentioned the letter, it was in the deep dark depths of the library that he had,” Ms Carter said.

As she read the letter, Ms Carter reflected on the life that was taken, not just from her uncle, but his young bride too. 

Lieutenant Sidney Edwin Thomas married Constance before heading overseas.(Supplied)

“To the dying day in the nursing home, she had a big photo of their wedding day above her bed,” Ms Carter said.

“She’d had lots of offers [of marriage], according to my dad, but she just loved him too much, she couldn’t remarry.”

The letter not only detailed Lieutenant Thomas’ selfless leadership but his bravery until the end.

It may be a small crumb of comfort to you to that he met his death very suddenly.

He was moving his company forward early one morning in the hills above the Demour River when he heard very heavy fire coming from one of his platoons who were hidden from sight behind a hill.

He immediately set out alone to try and discover what was holding them up, and had almost reached his objective when a machine gun caught him. 

The bullets got him through the heart and chest and death must have been instantaneous.

Lieutenant Thomas’ father Edwin during his service in WWI.(Supplied.)

The letter from Sergeant Smith also goes into the personal exchanges between the two soldiers and how Lieutenant Thomas’ father had given his son advice.

From what I have gathered from long conversations with him he learnt far more about soldiering and the way to handle men from you than he learnt from any instructor in this army. 

He was forever quoting things that had happened to you and that you had done during 1914 to 1918.

Ms Carter said her own father had told her of those pre-war conversations and would be glad that the letter, and his fallen brother, were being remembered. 

“I think he would be proud that we’re acknowledging his brother as someone who served and his sacrifice,” Ms Carter said. 

“To hear what other people thought of him and his service overseas, and a recognition of what he died for. 

“It was wonderful to hear that he was just so well respected and it also it made me sad that he didn’t get to come home like a lot of them did.”

Ms Carter said the book will now be kept “close by” so it remains where it belongs, part of the family’s proud history.