Help to complete picture of a hero

A FAMILY is pinning their hopes on Mail readers to help them complete their ancestry.

Kenneth Dunn, 61, and his sister Sylvia Frost, have spent a year in their quest to find out more about their descendants.

Their studies have so far unearthed a First World War hero who attacked a machine gun post in France.

He was Kenneth and Sylvia’s Great Uncle Alfred Dunn, of Stephen Street, in Hartlepool. He was educated at Jesmond Road School and then a Richardson Westgarth brass finisher.

He was a raw 18-year-old when he enlisted with the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (the Durham Pals).

But Alfred’s fateful day came on July 18, 1918, two weeks after he arrived on the Western Front.

His story can be told thanks to the pain-staking research of Hartlepool-born Kenneth, a retired teacher of art at Brierton School, in Hartlepool, and now of Wolviston Court, in Billingham.

He said: “We began our research at Hartlepool Library and found obituaries to Alfred in the Northern Daily Mail. It is impossible to explain the excitement you feel when facts appear from all those years ago.”

Kenneth and Sylvia, a former teacher at St Aidan’s Primary School in Hartlepool, also used the Durham Records Office for their research.

Archives show Alfred and his battalion attacked German positions at Plate Becque at Vieux Berquin.

Every one of the battalion, except an officer, were wiped out by the enemy.

“Fighting was so intense that Alfred’s body remained on the battlefield,” said Kenneth.

“He has no known grave but we feel that, after the war when many bodies were recovered by special search teams, his remains might have been taken to the nearby Aval Wood Military Cemetery on the edge of Nieppe Forest where there are 155 unidentified burials.”

Kenneth and Sylvia have so far got copies of documents including the instructions for the battalion’s attack that dayand reports sent back from the battlefield by officers.

Kenneth said: “Those in charge thought the operation would be quite simple. Patrols had suggested the area was not strongly held by the enemy.

“But what the powers did not know was that, the evening before the operation, a crack German infantry division had taken over and changed the system of defence.”

It was a recipe for disaster.

Kenneth and Sylvia have also got copies of other documents including Alfred’s safety record, enlistment papers, and casualty records.

He’d had to see the Army doctor twice, once to have a tooth extracted and once for a sore side.

But Kenneth added: “We are really desperate to complete our story by including one really important item which is a photograph of our Great Uncle as we don’t have one.

“We have tried all avenues and our only hope is that a relative of one of Alfred’s brothers or sister might just have a picture of him.”

l Anyone who can help Kenneth or Sylvia, and anyone wanting to share their own family history search with the Hartlepool Mail, should contact Chris Cordner by writing to him at New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX, via email to chris.cordner@northeast-press.co.uk or by calling (01429) 239377.