The story of Eastbourne’s hospital chaplain who put a plea out on Facebook for people to attend the funeral of a World War Two veteran is to feature on the new BBC series of Heir Hunters.
World War Two veteran James Douglas Knowles, 91, passed away at Eastbourne District General Hospital in March last year. As James had no known next of kin, hospital chaplain Reverend Nolan was tasked with organising his funeral. On the day, 120 people turned out to pay their respects including veterans from the Royal Marines, Royal British Legion, 3rd Battalion Queen’s Regiment and coastguards.
The case was advertised by the Government Legal Department as unclaimed the day after the funeral. It was picked up by professional probate genealogists and stars of the BBC’s Heir Hunters - Finders International - who soon began to discover distant relatives.
Daniel Curran, of Finders International, said, “It is a sad case when families are not aware of each other. Ideally we would have liked to have worked on the case earlier so that some of the relatives could have attended the funeral and paid their respects.”
The heir hunters learned that James had been a bachelor with no children and it appeared that he had no siblings. They began looking into cousins. They found Pauline from Herne Bay in Kent.
She said, “It was totally unexpected.
“We had no idea that James existed. It’s very sad to think that none of the family went to his funeral, but what is fantastic is that through Finders International we’ve been put in touch with a lot of our cousins.”
As the BBC programme on Monday (March 6) reveals, it emerged that James’ father George had gone missing when he was younger, so the family had been under the impression that he had died when in fact he had only moved to London and then to Eastbourne.
A further twist in the story came when a photo pictured James as a young boy with another boy who looks a number of years older.
Finders International traced death records for the deceased’s parents, that showed there was indeed another son, called Alec, thought to have died while serving in the Navy in 1941.