'˜He died a hero on the first day of battle' '“ Hartlepool man's visit to great-grandfather's resting place in the Somme

A poignant trip to the battlefields of France yielded more than Brian Munt could ever have imagined.'¨

Wednesday, 29th June 2016, 3:48 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th June 2016, 4:53 pm

When he mentioned his plans to go The Somme, Brian’s mum Sheila Munt spoke up. “Look out for your great grandad Neesam,” she said.

And more in hope than expectation, Brian set off.

Chris Cordner reports on a trip which was to yield breathtaking results.

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Brian Munt had only scant details of a grandad called Neesam whose grave might be somewhere in France.

Where was it? Was there any hope of ever finding it?

My mam had said ‘look out for your great grandad’s name Neesam. I’m sure he was called Thomas. I set off thinking ‘no chance’ as thousands gave their lives in the First World War,” said Brian as he embarked on a battlefield tour.

But tour guide Gary Ashley took up the challenge of helping. Sure enough, the name of two Thomas Neesams came up. One was a Royal Artillery gunner who survived the fight. It was the wrong man.

The second was a soldier in the 23rd Tyneside Scottish Regiment 4 Northumberland Fusiliers. It was Brian’s great grandfather, the man he hoped against hope to find.

And more than that, there was information his family had never known about a hero who died on the very first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1, 1916.

This Friday marks 100 years since the start of the five-month conflict which left a legacy of 1.1m casualties. One was Thomas Neesam, great grandfather of Brian Munt.

That little spark helped Brian to spring into action. He now knows his ancestor was born in Seaton Burn, Tyne and Wear.

“He is commemorated on an oak panel in St Paul’s Church in Choppington,” said Brian.

But Thomas’s roots lay in Hartlepool. He left for France from Hill Street in Longhill, better known as Wagga.

And when he died at The Somme, he left behind a wife and seven children who were Tom, John, Lizzie, Norman (Brian’s grandad), Harry, Doris and Frederick.

Sadly, Frederick also gave his life for king and country during the Second World War when he served as a 1st class stoker in the Royal Navy. After being torpedoed twice he passed away in hospital with pneumonia.

Thomas was killed attacking the area of La Boisselle. “He has no known grave and his name is on the Tiepval memorial along with 72000 others,” said Brian.

So his search for extra detail goes on. Can Mail readers help?

In the meantime, Brian admitted: “My Mam was overjoyed that she had finally found the truth. She said she had often wondered about him over the years.”