A service of remembrance to honour a war hero who died a pauper forgotten by his community over 75 years ago will be held later this month.

Former DLI soldier James Storey was awarded the Silver War Badge after he was wounded during the First World War.

He fought in Flanders but was discharged in 1917 with a serious head injury that required a silver plate implanted in his skull.

He returned to ‘blighty’ severely disabled, fell on hard times and became known as the ‘tramp of Stanley’.

Today, Saturday, May 11, marks the 76th anniversary of his death, and the service has been organised by local historian Jack Hair who remembers him from his childhood in Stanley.

Jack said: “James gradually sank into not looking after himself properly due to his injuries.

“There was great unemployment in the area with many homeless families.

“Families like him were forced to live rough and sheltered in the Louisa Coke Ovens.

“It is known he also lived in a tent at the nearby allotment gardens.

“He roamed around the area and finally built a shelter on the council tip, with articles from the tip.

“This structure had no windows or door and he slept on cardboard boxes.

“It was a meagre existence.

“He got his water supply from the end house in Forster Street and the lady there used to give him occasional bowls of hot broth.”

From Jack’s own research he has found James was born on August 2, 1890, to George Storey and his wife, Annie, whose maiden name was Fitzpatrick.

He was born in Shildon and was baptised in St Wilfred's Anglican Church at Bishop Auckland before the family moved to Joicey Terrace in West Stanley.

George was employed at West Stanley Colliery but died in the 1909 disaster when an enormous explosion tore through the pit, claiming the lives of 168 men and boys.

James and his mother moved to Douglas Street, behind the Imperial Hotel, in Stanley, and he worked at several collieries in the area.

When war broke out in 1914, James signed up with the DLI, and went to fight in Flanders with his regiment.

When he returned he was unable to work and he lived with his mother until she died in 1922.

Jack said: “James, or Jimmy as he was known locally, used to spend a lot of his time on the Front Street.

“That's where I remember him from. We used to climb the Board School wall to buy broken biscuits from Brough's shop.

“Jimmy used to take great delight in beating us to the best biscuits.

“He was dressed in an old coat fastened at the waist by a rope.

“Attached were a spare pair of boots and all of his most-needed belongings.

“It was quite a sight. He was often heard quoting Shakespeare.”

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As the years went on Jack said he felt as though the area turned its back on him.

He said: “It must have been a daily struggle just to survive, spending endless hours on his own in that shelter on the tip with only the rats for company.

“The winter of 1947 must have taken it's toll, with huge snow drifts and freezing conditions.”

On May 7, 1948, James Storey, who was 58, was found dead in his shelter on the ash tip.

His body was decomposed and evidence of rat bites.

His body was taken to Stanley Cemetery, where he lay until he was buried on May 11, 1948, in a communal grave.

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Jack said: “What a poor reward for a man who fought for his country, and was left unwanted by all.

“Just a little effort would have made so much difference to his life.

“He would have felt like a leper in his own community and a great feeling of being alone. You would treat an animal better.”

The service of remembrance, which is organised by Jack and Stanley Town Council with DLI representatives, is being held at Stanley Cemetery at 11am on Saturday May 25.

Jack said: “There is still time to make things right.”