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By MARK TWEEDIE
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
One man’s determined mission to travel from the other side of the world to deliver a single reminder of first world war sacrifice was accomplished yesterday.
And last night, a scroll commemorating the death in 1916 of Norfolk Regiment soldier Pte Charles Reynolds was back in the hands of the descendants whom he never lived long enough to love and cherish.
As we reported previously, expatriate Brit Andrew Mason rediscovered the framed scroll among the remaining effects of his late mother, former Dereham woman Marion Winn. She had acquired it while working at the Sue Ryder charity shop in the town and took it with her when she went to live with Andrew in Australia in 1997.
It sat for years in a wardrobe. And when, just weeks ago, he found it while looking for something else, he resolved to trace Pte Reynolds’ present-day family and to return it to them. Yesterday, at the high-point of a week-long flying visit to the UK, he did just that at the King’s Head Hotel in Dereham.
Among those there to meet him were three of Charles’ many grandchildren: Tom Rix, of Shipdham, Heather Wilson, from Toftwood, and her brother, Barry Houseago, of Dereham.
“It had to be done. I just had to bring it to them, and I’ve done it,” said Mr Mason, 61, who runs a photographic laboratory in Brisbane.
Thanking the EDP’s sister paper, the Dereham Times, and Norfolk librarian Linda Tree for helping to track down the soldier’s descendants, he added: “I am absolutely gobsmacked that this has all happened, because a month-and-a-half ago I hardly knew a thing about him. It has been an amazing journey for me: now it’s at an end and I feel fantastic.”
Mrs Wilson, one of the children of Pte Reynolds’ daughter Irene, said: “It is marvellous. It was so good of him to bring it back here.”
By a cruel twist of fate, West Acre-born Pte Reynolds, a one-time Metropolitan Police officer and farm worker who volunteered for army service in 1915, died accidentally of drowning in France, apparently going overboard on May 2, 1916 while travelling by barge with 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment comrades.
A corporal dived in after him but could not find him.
Yesterday, among their other keepsakes, the family showed Mr Mason a letter, written in pencil to his widow by a second lieutenant, that noted the tragic irony.
It states: “It seems sad enough when a poor fellow meets his death in the trenches, but it is even more so when he meets it by accident, having been facing death daily for several months.”
Pte Reynolds, a 38-year-old father of three girls, is buried in Daours Communal Cemetery near Amiens.
Mr Mason believes his mother took charge of the scroll because she feared nobody would buy it and it would end up being thrown away.