Fallen WW1 hero's bible returned to family after four decades

Private George Ford's nephews: "It's incredible how much effort has gone in to finding us."

A fallen war hero's treasured bible found on his person when he was shot dead has finally been reunited with his family - by a stranger who spent 35 years tracking them down.

Private George Ford was shot dead in the Battle of the Somme in 1918 aged just 20, with his trusty bible tucked in his breast pocket.

His bloodied uniform and all his belongings, including the bible, were sent back to Pte Ford's distraught family in Nottingham, where they were stored away in an attic.

But after gathering dust for six decades as Pte Ford's family passed away, the wartime souvenir could have been lost forever until a builder stumbled across it in the late 1970s.

Ken Greensitt, who was renovating the house where Pte Ford's family used to live, found the bible 59 years later and gave it to his nine-year-old son.

During the next three decades Allan Greensitt tracked down Private George Ford's distant relatives - and remarkably managed to return the bible to them almost a century after the soldier's death.

Mr Greensitt, 40, used birth, marriage and death certificates, and even details from Pte Ford's Sherwood Forresters regiment, to painstakingly track down the heroic World War One's soldier's family.

Using a 1911 census and other documents, he managed to find Pte Ford's nephews George and Larry Haynes, now 83 and 76, before handing back the cherished book.

On Monday Allan travelled 127 miles from his home in Middlesborough to meet Pte Ford’s family in Arnold, Notts, 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.

"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.

“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."

Allan said 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.

“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."