In October of last year, employees at the National Express bus depot in Birmingham were clearing out the lost property office so it could be painted when they came across something that had been lost since 1944. When she moved a heavy cardboard box on top of a dusty old metal cabinet, Christine McDaid found an old war office envelope. Inside she found the last will and testament of Private Gordon Albert James Heaton of Handsworth, Birmingham, and a letter from the war office dated November 1944 asking his family about his estate.
The official envelope was still sealed, which means in all likelihood these documents had never reached their destination 67 years ago. They were probably left on the bus by the courier. In attempt to ensure the family finally received this sad and important part of their history, National Express put out a press release about the find. The story was picked up by the BBC at the time.
While they waited for a response, Christine McDaid did some research on Private Heaton and found that he had been killed in France in August of 1944, less than two months after he made the will. He was 21 years old. Heaton was a member of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment who took part in the River Seine Crossing at Vernon between August 26th and August 28th, 1944. This was the final Allied push chasing retreating German troops out of Normandy. Private Heaton was killed in the advance on Tilly on August 27th and was buried at the Vernonnet Cemetery outside of Vernon along with 15 other members of his regiment.
This month, David Hall was researching his family history when he came across the story about Private Heaton’s will on the BBC website. Hall’s 80-year-old great uncle John Heaton is sick in the hospital and David has been visiting him. He got the idea to look for information about his uncle’s long-lost brother Gordon who they thought had died during the war. When he searched for “Private Gordon Heaton” he found the story about the will. He knew the name alone wasn’t enough information to be certain it was the same person, but he contacted National Express and did further research. War department records confirmed that the will was indeed the last testament of the great uncle he never knew.
In a sad coincidence, the Heatons never received the war office telegram informing them of their son’s death. Then months later, the will, as we know, was left on a bus, so they never received anything official notice that Gordon was dead at all. They just assumed he had died when the war was over and he didn’t come back.
Last week, Christine McDaid returned the documents to David Hall who accepted them gratefully in his great-uncle’s name. John Heaton has not yet been told about this momentous find as the family believes he is too ill at the moment to take it in, but when his health improves they will have his brother’s final testament to show him.
7 thoughts on “Family receives soldier’s will left on a bus in 1944”
Sometimes there are amazing and tragic stories that don’t come to light for decades later, or never come to light at all. I have this same, sad feeling everytime I see the television programmes called Find My Family or The Heir Hunters. Little people are lost…and society doesn’t even notice.
I haven’t seen those programs, but I’ve seen similar ones and I won’t deny that they frequently make me weep, both in sadness and, in some cases, joy at a reunion or revelation.
Wow! Mary Gentle would have a hard time coming up with a cooler story about long-lost documents and curious coincidences involving descendants of those who wrote them! Very neat, livius!
It sure is. I hope Mr. Heaton gets better soon so he can finally see his brother’s last wishes for himself.
I wonder, now the family has Gordon Heaton’s will, do they have to undo whatever arrangements they made for his property when he didn’t come back from the war?
He didn’t really have any property to speak of beyond personal effects. He left everything to his mother and since he lived at home, whatever he left behind remained with his parents just by default.
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