IGCSE narrative essay | 2011 May-Jun | 'While I was looking idly through my family`s old box


You are advised to write between 350 and 500 words on the following topic:

‘While I was looking idly through my family`s old box of documents, I suddenly came across an official letter.’ Imagine yourself as the narrator and continue this story.

Model Essay

While I was looking idly through my family’s old box of documents, I suddenly came across an official letter. Its envelope was yellowed with age, the ink faded but still legible. The stamp indicated it had been sent over fifty years ago, yet it was unopened. My heart quickened with curiosity as I gently pried it open, careful not to damage the fragile paper.

The letter was addressed to my grandfather, Thomas Ellwood, from the Department of Veterans Affairs. My grandfather rarely spoke of his time in the military, and I had always assumed it was a period he preferred to leave in the past. The letter, dated July 15, 1965, began formally:

“Dear Mr. Ellwood,

We regret to inform you that due to an administrative oversight, the commendation for your exceptional bravery during the Vietnam conflict has not been officially recognized. Enclosed, please find your Bronze Star Medal, awarded for acts of heroism in ground combat.”

My breath caught as I read the words. A Bronze Star Medal? My grandfather had never mentioned this, nor had we seen any medals among his possessions. I quickly rifled through the rest of the documents in the box and, sure enough, nestled beneath a stack of old photographs was a small velvet box. Opening it, I found a gleaming bronze star, its ribbon still vibrant after all these years.

I sat back, overwhelmed by a mix of pride and sadness. My grandfather had passed away ten years ago, taking with him stories and secrets we would never fully know. Why had he never mentioned this? Why had he kept it hidden away?

Determined to uncover more, I visited my grandmother, hoping she might have some answers. She lived in a cozy cottage on the outskirts of town, surrounded by the garden she tended with loving care. As I recounted my discovery, her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, Thomas,” she murmured, clutching the medal. “He never liked to talk about the war. He said it brought back too many painful memories. But I always knew there was more to his story.”


She told me about the young man she had fallen in love with, who had returned from Vietnam a different person. He was quiet, reflective, often lost in thought. Over the years, he had found peace in the simple joys of life—his family, his garden, his woodworking. But the war had left its mark.

We spent the afternoon going through more of the old documents and photographs. There were letters he had written to my grandmother during his deployment, filled with hopes and fears, longing and love. Each one painted a picture of a man trying to navigate the horrors of war while holding onto the promise of a future with the woman he loved.

As the sun set, casting a golden glow over the room, I felt a deep connection to my grandfather—a man I had always admired but never truly understood. The discovery of the letter and the medal brought his past into sharper focus, revealing the quiet strength and resilience he had carried with him.

In the days that followed, I shared the story with the rest of my family. We decided to honor my grandfather’s memory by displaying the medal and the letters in a shadow box, a tribute to his bravery and the sacrifices he made. It became a focal point in our home, a reminder of the extraordinary lives that shape our own.

While I was looking idly through that old box of documents, I had stumbled upon a piece of our family’s history that had been hidden away for too long. It was a story of courage and love, of a man who had faced unimaginable challenges and emerged with a heart full of quiet grace. And in sharing it, we found a deeper understanding of where we came from and the legacy we carry forward.

Word Count: 651