Relatives can bid fallen soldier farewell at last

Relatives can bid fallen soldier farewell at last

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First published in News
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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter (Sedgefield)

RELATIVES of a soldier who died in Poland during the Second World War will finally get to say goodbye to him when they visit his grave next week.

Lance Corporal John Thomas ‘Tommy’ Saunders, of Bishop Auckland, died whilst a prisoner of war in German hands in 1944.

Though his parents Joseph and Florence were informed of his death that August both passed away, in 1950 and 1985 respectively, without ever knowing where their son was buried.

L Cpl Saunders’ nephew Tom Hutchinson, a keen historian from Birtley, near Chester-le-Street, carried out research to locate his grave.

In 2012 he persuaded the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to visit Popielow, in Poland, to identify his grave and a headstone was installed last October.

This week Mr Hutchinson and his mother, Norah, from Bishop Auckland, will travel to Poland for a rededication service on Thursday.

Mr Hutchinson visited the cemetery at Popielow whilst researching but has not been since the headstone was erected and his 91-year-old mother has never seen her big brother Tommy’s final resting place.

He said: “This visit is essential for us, it was important they put an appropriate headstone up but to see it and pay our respects in person finishes the whole story.

“It will be special for me and though my mother’s memory isn’t great it has been the main subject of conversation recently, it will be very emotional for her and in reality the one and only time she’ll get there.

“She was 17 when he left and has never had the chance to say goodbye, I hope this will offer some closure.”

Enlisted in September, 1939, L Cpl Saunders, a member of the Tyneside Scottish Black Watch, was sent to France the following April and is thought to have been captured at Ficheux just a few weeks later.

On July 21, 1944, the 25-year-old and another prisoner, Henry Thomson, were shot dead by a guard at Lamsdorf, a large camp in Germany which is now part of Poland, and buried nearby.

Mr Hutchinson, 71, said: “Because they’d received letters from Tommy when he was a prisoner of war I think the family wrongly assumed that he was safe, at least in a camp they knew where he was and read about social aspects.

“I was only a year old when he left and my uncle Joe, who is 82 now, was only eight but does remember him as an older brother who liked football.

“As my mother was closer in age to Tommy it was very real for her so even though it will be a strenuous trip it is especially important she can say goodbye.”

Relatives of Mr Thomson will also attend the rededication service.

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