THE family of a North-East soldier killed during the Second World War made an emotional trip to Poland to pay their final respects at his graveside.

Lance Corporal John Thomas Saunders, from Bishop Auckland, died at a German prisoner of war camp at Lamsdorf, which is now in Poland.

The 25-year-old and a second prisoner, Trooper Henry Thomson, from Lewisham, were shot by a guard as they worked in woodland near the camp on July 21, 1944.

Both were buried in unmarked graves in Popielow Cemetery until L Cpl Saunders’ nephew, historian Tom Hutchinson, managed to locate his final resting place.

Mr Hutchinson, from Birtley, near Chester-le-Street, worked with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Ministry of Defence to have headstones installed at both graves last October.

Yesterday (Thursday, August 21) Mr Hutchinson and his 91-year-old mother Norah, L Cpl Saunder’s younger sister, attended a rededication ceremony at the cemetery in Popielow, south western Poland.

L Cpl Saunders’ niece Linda Campbell and her husband George, from Bishop Auckland, and relatives of Trooper Thomson also attended.

Mr Hutchinson, 71, said: “It was very special, the closest the family would get to a funeral for Tommy.

“If I’d been asked to put into words what it meant on the day I wouldn’t have been able to, it was incredibly emotional.

“We really appreciate the effort and kindness of those involved.

“For 70 years his grave hadn’t been formally identified and registered, that has now occurred and is very important to us.”

Mr Hutchinson said it was emotional to see a British Union Jack fly over the small Polish village on the day of the service and to see the entire community witness the occasion.

He said: “The Polish media were there and so many people from the village turned out to pay their respects, that was really touching.”

Among them were Renata Przybyla, a local woman who had tended to both graves for many years, as her late mother used to, and Tomasz Woiczik, with whom Mr Hutchinson had stayed during an earlier research trip to the country.

Major Eyton Parker from 101 Regiment Royal Artillery, representing the Tyneside Scottish, said: “As a modern day Tyneside Scot I have immense pride in our history and this is a time to reflect on what our soldiers had to endure.”

The moving service was presided over by Father Robert Gamble and Group Captain David Houghton, the British Defence Attaché in Poland, and local dignitaries also attended.