A fallen war hero’s bible which he had in his breast pocket when he was killed in World War One has been reunited with his family – by a stranger who spent 35 years tracking them down.
Private George Ford, who served in the Sherwood Foresters, was shot dead during the Battle of the Somme in 1918 – aged just 20-years-old.
His bloodied uniform and all his belongings, including the bible, were sent back to his distraught family in Nottingham and placed in an attic for safe keeping.
The black leather-bound bible stayed in the box gathering dust for 59 years until it was discovered by builder Ken Greensitt who found it while renovating the home in 1977.
Mr Greensitt, then aged 40, decided to give the bible – which contains an inscription on the inside cover urging the brave solider to “put his faith in God” – to his nine-year-old son Allan.
Allan kept the bible safe and when he was an adult vowed to track down Pte Ford’s relatives and return the bible to them.
Over the next 35 years Allan, using birth, marriage and death certificates, painstakingly built up Pte Ford’s family tree and even contacted the Sherwood Forresters for help.
But his biggest breakthrough came after he scoured the 1911 census when it became available last year.
Incredibly, Allan managed to find an address for Pte Ford’s deceased sister’s sons George and Larry Hanes, now 83 and 76, who lived in Arnold, Notts.
He wrote to the brothers who confirmed their uncle was the dead soldier.
On Monday Allan travelled 127 miles from his home in Middlesborough to meet Pte Ford’s family and give them their late uncle’s treasured bible – 95 years since his death.
An emotional George, named after his beloved uncle who he never met, said: “You can’t put into words how proud it makes you feel.
“I was named after my uncle George, my mum – George’s sister – never really got over his death so I think giving me his name was important for her to feel close to him.
“Having his bible in my hands is a really special moment for me and Larry.
“Shivers went down my spine when the bible was handed to me. I’ve hardly let go of it since.
“It is remarkable for the bible to turn up, and when it was put into my hand I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless.
“I can’t quite believe this was with him while he was in combat, while he was in the trenches, he had this with him and when he was tragically killed.
“It must have had great sentimental value for him and it must have kept him going in the heat of battle.
“I’m going to pass this family heirloom on to my kids and keep it in the family. It’s such a great piece of history.
“Also, it’s incredible how much research Allan has done and the effort he has put in to find us.”
Dedicated Allan says his achievement was tinged with a hint of sadness after only learning that Pte Ford had not made it home from the Great War in April this year.
He said he had one day envisaged handing over the bible to Pte Ford’s grandchildren – in the hope that he made it safely back from battle and started a family of his own.
Because of the extensive research Allan had undertaken, he was able to reveal the whereabouts of Pte Ford’s grave – something previously unbeknown to George and Larry.
The family now plan to visit his grave at Fins British Cemetery, in the district of Sorel Le Grand, in the Somme region of France.
Married father-of-two Allan, a police dispatch worker, said: “I only discovered through internet searches in April this year that Mr Ford died at the Somme in January 1918.
“He didn’t make it home.
“This really saddened me because his bible did. I always hoped he came home and lived to an old age, had a wife and lots of children. I could always see myself handing over the bible to his grandchildren.
“But when I found this out, it intensified my need to find family and relatives.”
He said he had been offered “significant sums” of money for the book but refused to part with it, as he believed it belonged with the soldier’s family.
He added: “I was nine years old when I received the bible, so it was one of my oldest possessions.
“I’ve been offered thousands of pounds for it by historians but I’ve never wanted to sell it on.
“I’ve always thought as the custodian of it – not the owner. But there was obviously a great sentimental value to it as it was given to me by my late father.
“It was an emotional experience handing over the Bible.
“But it’s back where it belongs now – and that is the most important thing.”