‘Ernest married in 1915, had a son in 1916, and by 1918 they were all dead’

Chris Savory at his ancestor's grave in Belgium
Chris Savory at his ancestor's grave in Belgium
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Laura Wild hears the tragic tale of a long-lost relative uncovered by his second cousin.

When Chris Savory stumbled across a record that matched his family name he could never had predicted the tragic story he would uncover.

The 64-year-old had been looking through relief records in the East End, where he was brought up, and found out about his second cousin Ernest Warren Savory – who he later found had been based at Fulwood Barracks in Preston.

“He was my father’s first cousin,” says Chris, who now lives in Eastbourne.

“He was the illegitimate son of my grandfather’s oldest sister.”

After finding the claim for relief, Chris carried on researching Ernest, who had the same name as his grandfather.

Chris says: “When he was 16 he gave a false date of birth – this was in 1909 – and he joined the Royal Field Artillery.

“He said he was 18, he was 16. When the Frist World War started he was sent to France attached to an infantry unit.

“He left from Fulwood Barracks, that’s where he was based.

“Before he left he had started a relationship with a local lady called Annie Leyland.

“It seems he came back from France and they married in 1915, then Ernest went back to France.

“They had a son that they also called Ernest. He died of convulsions, which we now know as epilepsy, in 1916.

“They married in 1915 and by the following September their child had died.

“Ernest died at the Battle of Passchendaele. He died with two officers in 1917.

“That was about 13 months after the son died. Annie died in November 1918 in the flu pandemic, which hit Lancashire quite badly.”

Chris travelled to Belgium in 2012 and traced Ernest’s grave.

He says: “We drove to Ypres and found his grave at Canada Farm cemetery.

“It was a very emotional experience for me , as I found him a man who – for me – had probably had a difficult, secretive life and died a hero.

“I felt I was the first relative to stand at his grave.”

Chris continues: “I know that many many families lost someone in the First World War but I thought this was particularly poignant.

“Annie and Ernest wouldn’t have spent that much time together, they married in a rush, and then they all died.”

“The only way I found out he was married was because this year the British Government put all the wills online.

“I saw his, and he had left everything to Annie Leyland of 8 Brinscall Street, Preston.

“Annie’s family originated from Wigan, I don’t know exactly when they came to Preston.

“Their relationship was all surrounded by war, the war started and by August he would’ve known he would have to go at some stage. He was just 24 when he died.

“They both gave false ages at their wedding because she was older than him by five years.

“They pretended that he was older than her. In those days the man was expected to be older than the lady.”

Father-of-two Chris, who works as a college lecturer, said: “This is an ancestor I would have never known I had. I have been doing this research since 1985 and the earliest ancestor that I think I have found is 1284, I’ve gone a considerable way back.

“I’ve come across many interesting ancestors, but this is certainly the most interesting.”

Anybody who knows more about Annie Leyland can contact Chris through the LEP.