ONE of the reasons that the First World War still resonates with so many people 100 years later is that back then it touched almost every single family – and so, with a little shaking today, almost every single family tree reveals a war story.

The name “Gillow” hangs over a clothes shop in Darlington’s Grange Road, but in all the war records relating to their family tree it appears as “Gallewski”.

“They changed it after the war,” says Bill Gillow, who now runs the shop. “They looked through a phone book or street directory for something beginning with G and had two ls, and chose Gillow.”

Bill has been patching together his family’s war story using census information and war records.

It begins with his great-grandfather, Soloman Gallewski, who was one of the tens of thousands of Lithuanian Jews who fled from the anti-Jewish “pogroms” – or programmes – of Russia in the 1880s. He settled in Sunderland, marrying Gertie, herself an immigrant from Germany who had come to rest in Middlesbrough.

Censuses reveal that Soloman was a “travelling clothier” who naturalised as British in 1891, and by 1901 was living in a pleasant area of Sunderland, Frederick Street, with his wife, six children and an 18-year-old domestic servant.

One of those children was Louis, born in 1879, and listed in 1901 as an “apprentice travelling clothier”, although his war records show that when he enlisted in Sunderland at the age of 37 on August 15, 1916, he was a “tobacconist”.

Louis joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the records show that on October 7, 1916, he landed Le Havre in northern France on his way to the killing fields of the Somme. The war records don’t show that back in Sunderland, on September 30, his son Geoffrey had just been born.

Louis fought through until March 1917 when he is recorded as spending ten days in a field hospital. The records say that he was suffering from myalgia, which was probably just exhaustion brought on by the trench fever that was spread by lice.

He went back to the front and the next record is that on December 22, 1917, he was wounded in action in the mouth. He is also listed as suffering from tonsillitis, but the family story is that he had had his teeth blown out which may account for an infection in the tonsils.

He was discharged from the hospital in northern France to his regiment’s base the following spring, but never fully recovered, and the last entry on the casualty form was that he was admitted to the war hospital in Chester Road, Sunderland, on September 22, 1918 – two days after Geoffrey’s second birthday.

The family story is that father first saw his son around this time, and the encounter prompted Geoffrey to utter his first words: “Look, soldier.”

And so Geoffrey, now 102 and still living in Darlington, has an amazing connection back through time to the trenches of the First World War – although the story has had to be patched together from war records because, like so many soldiers, Gunner Louis Gallewski, who lived for another 45 years, didn’t speak of his war stories.