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Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens (No reorder)

Dorking Museum

Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens (No reorder)


Valentine Joe is told through the eyes of modern-day schoolgirl, Rose, who time-slips back to war-torn Ypres while visiting the war graves with her Grandpa on St Valentine’s Day. There, in the shattered old city, hidden beneath the new, she meets, befriends and falls in love with a fifteen-year-old soldier, Joe, and his adopted stray dog.

Rebecca Stevens’ own family story was her inspiration. She became interested in the under-age soldiers of World War One when she inherited a tatty folder of letters which had been written by her grandfather. This led her on to Valentine Joe’s story. 

Valentine Joe Strudwick was one of the youngest soldiers known to have been killed in action in World War One. He was born on 14th February 1900 in Dorking and went to St Paul's School before joining up in 1914 when he was fourteen years old.

After training, he was sent to the Front where his two best friends were killed and he was gassed. He was sent back to England to recover and then back to the Front on the Ypres Salient where he was killed in January, 1916, just one month before his 16th birthday. His grave at Ypres is one of the most visited by school children from Britain.

Unlike Valentine Joe, Rebecca Stevens’ own grandfather, Fred ‘Tommy’ Thompson, survived the war. 

When war broke out, like Valentine Joe, Fred lied about his age in order to take part. In 1915, at the age of 16, he joined the Seaforth Highlanders and wrote home several times a week from their training base in Cromarty. After catching pneumonia, Fred was sent home by an army doctor who discovered his true age. 

A year later, when he was old enough, he joined the Artists' Rifles and then volunteered as a pilot in the newly formed Royal Flying Corps, which later became the RAF. He was eventually stationed in France, from where he flew bombing missions over occupied France and Belgium. After the Armistice, Fred went with his squadron to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation.

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