Deserter who went on to be a hero

FORMER paramedic Vanessa Lord is gripped.

She is part of the growing band of brothers and sisters who love researching their family tree.

The resident of Castleton Road, Seaton Carew, said: “I have discovered ancestors who were miners, mill workers, shoemakers, joiners, builders, seamen and a mayor to name but a few.”

But one family story is the stuff of movies – of a man who transformed himself from a deserter to a hero.

It centres on Vanessa’s great uncle John Robert Lord, born on December 7, 1892, to John and Hannah Margaret Lord and later listed on records as a Hartlepool man.

In 1910, he signed up for 12 years’ Royal Navy service on his 18th birthday, serving first on HMS Suffolk and then HMS Cumberland at the same time as Prince Albert (later to become King George VI).

Mysteriously, John deserted at Charlottetown on June 2, 1913, after only three years’ service.

Vanessa, 58, said: “I don’t know why as his naval record stated that he was satisfactory.

“What I do know is that he wasn’t a coward – a coward wouldn’t have signed up again when war broke out 17 months later.”

John had managed to swap the shame of desertion for life outside of Britain.

He left the UK for Canada, first as a farmer in Nova Scotia in 1914.

When the Great War broke out, he signed as a soldier with the Canadian Infantry 25th Battalion Nova Scotia Regiment, where he was listed as a John Laird.

He served his country admirably and became hugely popular with his comrades.

At about 7.55am on April 24, 1918, John and his fellow troops went over the top at Doullens in France, but he was hit in the side by gunshot.

The wounds would prove to be fatal, yet John’s bravery made the pages of the Hartlepool Mail within days of the battle.

In May 1918, his mother shared the official words of tribute from John’s commanding officer with the newspaper.

They said: “I know you will not have had the slightest doubt that your son gave up his life with his face to the enemy and with that same bravery that he has always shown.

“You will be proud to hear that Jack was so popular among his fellow NCO’s and the men under him, that when word was brought back to our trench that he was severely wounded, every man that went over the top to his rescue did so voluntarily, prompted, I feel sure, by their love for such a comrade and they risked each one of their own lives to get him brought back to a place of safety.

“When I last saw your brave son he was as calm and courageous as he ever was and though he may have been in pain he would not let us know it.

“Believe me madam, his memory will always abide in the hearts of those who knew him out here and he shall be remembered as a brave and noble soldier. His platoon officer had only two days before commented on his particularly good work.”

And so a Navy deserter had become a Canadian Army hero in the space of 17 months.

He is now buried in the Bagneux British Cemetery, at Gezaincourt in the Somme, France.

Vanessa, who took early retirement from her career as a paramedic and became a mobile hairdresser for the elderly, added: “I intend to continue searching for more information about John Robert Lord so I can build a better picture of him and his story.”

● Are you an avid genealogist? Would you like to share your fascinating findings with the Mail. Give us a call and let us more about your own personal look into history.

Chris Cordner by writing to him at New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX, via email to or by calling (01429) 239377.