Somme letter to finally reach family

It is a poignant reminder of the monumental tragedy wreaked by the Battle of the Somme.This week, a letter intended for the family of a first world war solider will finally be delivered - 90 years after his “heroic” death in northern France.

It is a poignant reminder of the monumental tragedy wreaked by the Battle of the Somme.

This week, a letter intended for the family of a first world war solider will finally be delivered - 90 years after his “heroic” death in northern France.

For decades, the forgotten message of sympathy to the relatives of Rifleman Chris Rostron was in the possession of a Norfolk veteran and his family.

The letter, written by comrades of the 18-year-old soldier, from Lancashire, following his death from a machine gun bullet on July 15, 1916, was never sent because it had no address.

But, the message will finally reach its destination on Satur-day, following a lengthy research project carried out by former Thetford man David Stearne.

“It would be an emotional moment anyway, but it will be made even more poignant by the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and the 90th anniversary to the date and time when he was killed. It makes it all the more sad, but happy to pass it on,” he said.

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The family historian was trawling through the papers of his late grandfather Henry Stearne earlier this year when he came across the letter from Lance Corporals Frank S Jones and Tom J Bradley of the King's Royal Rifle Corps.

The note, dated July 26, 1916, expressed their “great sorrow” and “deep sympathy” for the loss of Rifleman Rostron.

“We hope it will comfort you a little to know that he died one of the most heroic deaths that I have seen. He died very quietly and just looked as though he was asleep. We feel his loss very much as he was one of the best & most generous chaps we had & the rest of the platoon have asked me to express their deep sympathy to you,” it said.

Its keeper, Henry Stearne, lived in Thetford all of his life and served in the Great War from start to finish as a general soldier in the 4th, 8th and 20th Hussars. He was awarded the Mons Star, fought in the Battle of the Somme, and also served in the second world war before his death in 1955.

Mr Stearne, who now lives in Kent, said he could only speculate on why his grandfather had the letter.

“Perhaps he found the letter on the battlefield, perhaps he was part of a burial party that found it on the body of another soldier, or perhaps it had been given to him. Either way, the letter was never posted,” he said.

But after four months of detective work and a newspaper appeal, Mr Stearne tracked down David Bentley, from Wrexham, great nephew of Rifleman Rostron.

He will present the letter on Saturday to remember the 90th anniversary of the death of the young solider, who has no known grave, but is remembered with 73,000 others on the Thiepval Memorial, in France.

“The family has always had the letter, but never known what to do with it. As a genealogist for the last 20 years, I felt the least I could do would be to try to trace any surviving descendant to whom I could pass on the original sad little letter and fulfil an obligation on my late grandfather,” said Mr Stearne.