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Gran's forgotten Christmas Day heroism triggers search appeal
A WOMAN whose grandmother plunged to her death in a partly frozen reservoir on Christmas Day 75 years ago is hoping to trace the man she was trying to rescue.
The headlines of the day called it a ‘Christmas Day Tragedy’ and talked of a ‘Sensational Affair at Sherburn Hill’.
But until recently Sharon Bowen knew little of her grandmother’s heroic part in it.
Bertha Isabella Thompson, then a young mother of 21, was spending Christmas 1938 with her parents at Sherburn Hill, County Durham.
The family, including a seven-month-old baby boy named Ivor who would become Ms Bowen’s father, were enjoying a stroll to nearby Littletown when they heard children screaming across a frozen reservoir.
A ten-year-old boy, Joseph Turnbull, had fallen in.
Bravely, Mrs Thompson rushed onto the ice. But it cracked under her weight and she fell in and died.
Meanwhile, the young Mr Turnbull was pulled to safety by others.
Mrs Thompson’s husband of 18 months, an aircraftsman named John, learned of the tragedy after cycling home from work at Usworth Aerodrome that evening.
Expecting festive celebrations, he found his family in mourning.
Ms Bowen never knew her family and her father, who was brought up by his grandparents, died 23 years ago, aged just 51, without talking about the incident.
Now 54 and living in Sheringham, Norfolk, she is trying to piece together her family history and hopes to trace Mr Turnbull, any of his relatives or anyone else who witnessed what happened on that fateful Christmas Day.
“I think we all think parents are immortal and I didn’t expect my father to die at age 51,” she said.
“If I had, then I would have spent more time with him and asked more questions.
“Now I have to spend hours on the internet trawling through lots of history to try and piece together who my family are, where they originated from and most importantly, where they are now.”
Newspaper reports from the time mention three other men in relation to the rescue: Edward Carr, Joseph Kenney and William Whitfield.
Anyone with information is asked to email Ms Bowen at: email@example.com
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