First World War love letters found in charity shop to be reunited with family

A cache of First World War love letters found in a charity shop is set to be reunited with the family of the woman who received them more than 100 years ago.

The Sue Ryder charity launched a campaign on Monday to find the family of Mary Fortune after letters to her from her husband George, in the Durham Light Infantry, were found in one of their stores in Fulwell, Sunderland.

Now they are set to be returned to David Bambrough, who came forward to identify himself as the great-grandson of Mary’s brother after being alerted to the letters via “random people” on the genealogy website Ancestry.

Charity calls for help to find family of WW1 love letter owner
Charity calls for help to find family of WW1 love letter owner

“I thought it was a scam at first,” Mr Bambrough, 53, told the PA news agency.

“I did my own research just through Google and I found the story and was like ‘Blimey, it’s true!'”

The letters were lost to the family in 2003 when Mary’s daughter, Marjory, died.

Marjory did not have any descendants, and neighbours got rid of her possessions.

Staff at the shop had initially struggled to find any relatives – the address to which the letters were sent no longer exists and Mary subsequently remarried, and became Mary Bambrough.

That did not stop the Ancestry users, though.

“There were about five people in total who sent me an email, and one in particular was the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society,” said Mr Bambrough, himself a keen family historian.

“They had basically done the research, all these people had done their own detective work, and found this Mary Bambrough through my family tree.

“It was really amazing that they took the time to go to the lengths to find me.”

The letters also include a note from King George V confirming that George Fortune had been killed in action.

It was not the only loss Mary, who was one of 13 children, suffered during the war.

“She lost two brothers within a day of each other in 1915 and then she lost her husband in 1916,” said Mr Bambrough, an engineer from Sunderland.

“It was a really tragic story.”

He now hopes to find out more through George Fortune’s side of the family, with whom he has been in contact via Facebook.

David Bambrough's great grandfather with a woman believed to be Mary Fortune
David Bambrough's great grandfather with a woman believed to be Mary Fortune

He said: “I’m more than willing to share them and do copies, and George Fortune’s family has invited me to go along and meet them and have a family gathering, so I’m going to take them up on the offer.”

The affectionate letters from George give interesting details of life during the war.

One section reads: “We had a little bit of excitement here the other night when there was an aeroplane which had some engine trouble and was forced to land in a corn field which was badly damaged by the people rushing over to see the aeroplane which landed quite safely.

“Best wishes to all at home.

“Love to you + baby I am your loving husband George xxxx”

The Sue Ryder store in Fulwell is currently closed but staff intend to send the letters on to Mr Bambrough once they regain access.

The charity said in a statement: “We are delighted that Sue Ryder has been able to reunite the letters with their rightful owner.

“All the treasures and trinkets donated to the Sue Ryder charity shops by members of the public are greatly appreciated, but this story has definitely been one to remember.

“The letters are an important part of history that brings home the sacrifices our soldiers made during World War One – and we are happy we could be part of that story.”