Lost Second World War telegram handed back to dead soldier's family

Lost Second World War telegram handed back to dead soldier's family

James Preston

Lost Second World War telegram handed back to dead soldier's family

An appeal published in the Advertiser has led to a family being reunited with a telegram and copy of the paper from 1941, reporting the death of Maidenhead man Thomas Gemmel in the Second World War. Reporter James Preston spoke to his children and grandson about his life after the items were saved from destruction and came into the hands of a former civil servant from Sheffield.

A copy of the Maidenhead Advertiser from 1941 along the a picture of Thomas Gemmel and the telegram about his death. The medal was also thought to belong to the soldier.

The children of a serviceman who died during the Second World War have been reunited with historic items from his past.

Last month the Advertiser put out an appeal for relatives to come forward after being contacted by Tony Cooper, from Sheffield, who had come into possession of a Maidenhead Advertiser from May 28, 1941, which reported the death of a Thomas Gemmel at sea while en-route to the Middle East earlier in the month.

He was also handed a telegram informing relatives of the soldier's death of heart failure and a shooting medal after they were saved from destruction by an acquaintance working for the refuse department of a local council.

The appeal yielded an instant response and on Monday the items were returned to Thomas' children Fred Gemmel and Jean Palmer, grandson Andrew Palmer and Jean's partner Alan Berwick at Jean's home in Ray Lea Close.

The family have continued to have lifelong ties to Maidenhead, with Fred even living at the same address in Furze Platt Road where Thomas had lived, and were stunned too see his name come up in the local paper.

Fred, 85, said the news had 'just come out of the blue', while the family were left baffled how the items had travelled so far from home.

"It's intriguing to know who kept these [items] and the reasons why they kept them," said Andrew, 54. "There must be some link to the family."

RIGHTFUL OWNERS: Advertiser reporter James Preston returns the items to Thomas' children, Fred and Jean.

Fred and Jean said they have fond memories of their father, who was already 50 by the time he signed up to the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, serving as a warrant officer one when he died.

Originally from Scotland, Thomas, who plied his trade as a metallurgist, had already served during the First World War for the Canadian army after spending some time living in the country as a young man.

The former Maidenhead United player gained a reputation as a keen sportsman, while former Post Office and BT worker Fred and former Courthouse School and Ellington Primary School teacher Jean fondly remembered playing with their father as youngsters.

Jean, 83, recalling being embarrassed when Thomas placed her on his shoulders while walking around the shops.

Both remembered the 'distressed' feeling they experienced on the horrible day they received an identical telegram to the one recovered and thanked Tony for taking the time to send the items to their rightful place.

"I think it's been one of these stories that goes around the houses and gets back home," said former civil servant Tony, 71. "It's been quite a trip really but I'm glad we have been able to pull it together."

Mystery still surrounds the medal which was recovered after closer inspection by the family revealed it could not have possibly belonged to Thomas. Awarded by the Royal Marines and dated a year before Thomas volunteered, the search continues for its rightful owner.

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