Entrepreneur Dennie Smith has walked more than 50 miles across France and Belgium to support veterans and to honour a relative who died during WW1.
The 56-year-old who runs online website Old Style Dating joined fellow members of the Royal British Legion last month to visit WW1 battlefields in honour of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War.
Dennie had an ulterior motive for the trek – to follow in the footsteps of her ancestor Jack Cheeseman. Jack was married to her great-grandmother Alice when war broke out and he went off to fight. They had a baby daughter named Joan.
“It was clear they were madly in love. I know this because I’ve got the letters Jack sent home to Alice and Joan. I’ve treasured them all of these years. They are so poignant with comments like ‘ just a note to let you know I am going on quite alright , I hope you and babe are also’.
“Tragically, like so many others, Jack was killed almost at the end of the war – March 25 2018. My great nan was grief stricken and never really got over losing him.
“Eventually she married again and had another two more daughters Peggy and Joyce – Peggy was my grandmother. Alice was never happy and later divorced and, in fact, was stern and deeply sad her whole life.”
Dennie’s grandmother Peggy gave her the letters and eventually Dennie managed to find a photograph of Jack.
"His name is remembered on a headstone in France – there are no remains to my knowledge.”
When Dennie saw a trek advertised by the Royal British Legion walking across the WW1 battlefields, walking 13 miles a day for four days she jumped at the chance. However she was unable to visit Jack’s memorial as it was too far from the organised route.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life. Of course the irony of this story is that if Jack had survived – I would not be here and that’s not lost on me. My next mission will be to track down his first daughter Joan, her children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.”
Dennie has already raised £300 for the Royal British Legion in a bid to reach a target of £1,000.
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