The mystery surrounding the death of a Hartlepool war hero has finally been solved seven decades on - by his own grandson.
Corporal Thomas William Smith went “missing in action, presumed killed” on D-Day - June 6, 1944 - with the whereabouts of his remains listed as “unknown”.
“My grandmother searched all her life for Thomas and even wrote to the people of Ranville, where he landed in France, asking for help,” said grandson Steve Smith.
“She never gave up hope and finally, after seven years of intense research, I believe I know what happened to him.”
Thomas Smith, son of marine steward Joseph and his wife Edith Mary Francis Buttle, was born in Hartlepool on April 13, 1915 - just months after the German bombardment of the town.
“The Smith family had been sailors and shipbuilders in the Hartlepool area for generations, and Thomas was the first of our family not to go to sea,” said Steve.
My grandmother searched all her life for my grandfather and even wrote to the people of Ranville, where he landed in France, asking for help. She never gave up hope and finally, after seven years of research, I believe I know what happened to him.Steve Smith, grandson of war hero Thomas William SWmith.
Indeed, the outbreak of World War Two saw Thomas sign up to fight for King and Country with the Green Howards - quickly rising through the ranks to acting sergeant.
He then volunteered for the Parachute Regiment in December 1943, joining 9 Platoon, A Company, 9th (Essex) Parachute Battalion of 6th Airborne Division.
“In the early hours of June 6 my grandfather jumped into the Normandy sky from a 512 Squadron Dakota and was never seen again,” said Steve.
“He was listed as missing in action, presumed killed, with no known grave. But I can prove my grandfather made it to his target of the Merville Battery.”
The 9th Battalion had been tasked with destroying the German battery, as it was believed to hold high-calibre guns - which threatened the D-Day landings.
However, when the unit parachuted into Normandy, most of the 600 soldiers landed off course. Only 150 men, with no heavy weapons, made it to the assembly point.
Despite this setback, the remaining few successfully captured the battery. Just 75 survived - only to discover the “high-tech” guns were actually of WWI vintage.
“I can prove that burials of allied personnel later took place at the battery, conducted by German forces, and went undocumented for 70 years,” said Steve.
The Airborne Assault Normandy Trust last year inaugurated the battery as a historic war grave, marking it with a cross of sacrifice, thanks to Steve’s research.
But one mystery still remains. Seven bodies from the battery were reburied at Bayeaux’s War Cemetery in the mid-1940s - all of which were listed as “unknown”.
“Of the 12 men listed as missing ‘No Known Grave’ for June 6, 1944, only eight could have made it to the battery - including my grandfather,” said Steve.
“There is no guarantee some of those eight were reburied in Bayeux War Cemetery, but it seems likely. Perhaps only DNA testing would provide an answer.”
Thomas is remembered on the Bayeux War Memorial.