A wife’s gift that may well have saved her husband’s life during the First World War will go to auction later this month.

The badly damaged silver cigarette case was found with a note tucked inside that read: “This 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.”

Research uncovered that Second Lieutenant William Lytle was given the case by his wife, Bertha, around the time of their marriage in 1916.

Adrian Stevenson, militaria expert at auctioneers Hansons, which is conducting the sale, 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.”

The object emerged when Stevenson was looking for a photograph of the officer to accompany the sale of his wartime medals, which included a Military Cross that he won aged 21 in 1915.

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

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

William Lytle’s medals and silver cigarette case are due to be sold on 22 November at Hansons, in Etwall, Derbyshire.