A chance find of old sheet music among unsold junk at a church fete in Chelsfield, Orpington, led to an amazing chain of discovery for Jean Bishop.
She noticed the name of its owner written at the top - Pte W.T.Hays, 529008 No.4 Canadian Field Ambulance, B.E.F. France - and now, five years later, is on the verge of giving it back to the former WW1 soldier’s daughter who lives in Edmonton.
Jean was intrigued by the signature and took the sheet music home with her, eager to know about the man who owned it.
She soon found out that he was William Thomas Hays, a Canadian, who fought in WW1.
He was born on January 28th 1880, in Huron Province, Ontario, and worked as a “druggist” when he entered the army in January 1917, having lived in London, Ontario, with wife Ruth.
Jean resolved to try to track down any descendants and offer the music to them but time went by with no further development until now.
She spoke with Bexhill museum curator Julian Porter and learned from him that from 1917 onwards, Canadian troops were based in Bexhill, and he put her in touch with expert Dr Luke Flanagan who has studied the Canadian involvement in WW1. Luke saw on a genealogy site information which suggested William had survived the war, gone to Alberta with Ruth, then had a daughter when he was in his 40’s. He told Jean that William had died in Edmonton, Alberta in 1966 when he was 86, and suggested she contact newspapers in the area.
Jean then managed to communicate with editor Dan Barnes at the Edmonton Journal who traced the whereabouts of daughter Margaret and phoned her.
Jean said: “She was thrilled to think she could receive something which had belonged to her father from before she was even born, and I am thrilled to think I can return something to the daughter of someone born as long ago as 1880!
“Dan Barnes is trawling through some war records at present, and we have found out that William had two weeks leave within France in early December, 1917, returning to his division have a Christmas dinner with his friends of turkey (one turkey between 10-12 men), “such vegetables as could be procured” and an “excellent Government issue Christmas pudding”. Records for June 18th 1918 state that an influenza epidemic (with a long description of symptoms) was sweeping through the troops, too many for them to be moved to hospitals and that they should be nursed within their own lines. On June 19th it states that the strength of the division was reduced by 1, as William had become sick and had been removed to a Casualty Clearing Station. I am hoping that we will discover the next bit – sounds as though he might have had more than the flu, as he did have to be moved, so perhaps he did get sent back to England?
“Watch this space.”