Ever since finding out who her great grandfather was and how he died, Wendy Springett and her family vowed that one day they would visit his war grave in France.
Though her mum did not live to do it, Wendy has now stood at the grave of Lt Allatt Thornalley, thanks to the kindness of a French stranger.
By chance Wendy, from Moreton Hall, her husband Cllr Clive Springett and their daughters Charlotte and Sophie were in France last month when they realised they were only about 12 miles from the cemetery at Metz-en-Couture.
The tour guide tried to organise a taxi but could not, then they told the story to curator Dominique Frere at Historial De La Guerre at Chateau de Peronne and he offered to drive them there himself.
Wendy said: “He said ‘I want to thank you and your grandfather’. He cried when we got there. We were so choked with emotions that overcame all of us.
“We had always said we’d visit the grave. My mum has passed away now, but I was the one able to do it and my girls were with me”
It was the end of a trail that started when her grandmother Audrey Meekins (nee Potter) was still alive.
“Nanna never knew who her father was,” Wendy said. “His name wasn’t on her birth certificate.”
Wendy thinks he may have intended to marry her great grandmother on his return from war, but will never know.
The family only traced his name 20 years ago through Audrey’s admission records at the Hope House Orphanage in Ipswich.
They appealed through the Bury Free Press for any surviving relatives and someone came forward, though the rest of the family were dead or had emigrated to Australia. Surviving relatives there confirmed the story and added Audrey to their family tree.
Having traced his awr record through the records office at Kew, she found a report of his death in the Bury Free Press of July 21, 1917. He he was killed on a patrol in no mans land on July 1, two weeks before Audrey’s first birthday.
The report says he was the son of a Mrs Thornalley of Mill Road, Bury St Edmunds, and was in the grocery trade, which is how Wendy thinks he met her great grandmother.
He joined the Suffolk Yeomanry (territorials) in 1915 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in May 1917, joining the South Staffordshire Regiment.
The report includes a letter from his commanding officer Lt Col J A Armstrong saying Thornally was in command of a patrol which ran into a German one and he was ‘killed instantaneously’ by a grenade, along with three of his men.
The regimental chaplain Arthur Brown wrote: “Although he had only recently been attached to us he had won the confidence and esteem of every officer and man in the Staffs.”