Answers found for century long mystery

FOUND PHOTO: The photograph of the 1912 wedding party had a caption written by Mr Smith which states it was 'found on a battle field in France after a bombardment'. Picture: SUPPLIED

Caroline Hammat

Gill Bullard and her sister Marilyn Hamilton were sorting through family possessions just before Christmas last year when they unearthed a wartime mystery connected to their grandfather, Sydney Stewart Menzies Smith.

The two women were going through boxes in the family home at Rendelsham after their mother recently passed away.

In one of the boxes, belonging to their grandfather who died in 1963, they found an old wedding photo not related to the family.

Their grandfather had written his name and his hometown of Rendelsham on the back and that it had been found on a battlefield in France following a bombardment in 1916.

Soon after they found an unposted letter written by Mr Smith on January 1, 1961 to the mayor of Albert, in the Somme of France, which explained the origins of the photo.

“He obviously felt very guilty that he still had the photo and tried to return it,” Mrs Bullard said.

“But in 1961 it would have been very hard to find an address, and it possibly would have been expensive to post.

“So he didn’t ever send it.”

The letter was difficult to read so Mrs Bullard typed it out, it said:

Dear Sir,

During the 1914/1918 war I served with the A.I. Forces. I stopped a few days in a house that had been shelled by the Germans. I came on a photo. To me, it looked like one of importance. I put it in my kitbag, always intending to return it to its owners before I left France. But I did not know who to send it to. I brought it back home here to Australia.

I happened upon it today. I am now sending it to you. I regret the long delay. I do hope you will be able to find someone that values it. Perhaps someone in the photo is still alive.

I spent three years in France. A lot of time in and around Albert and Amiens. I like the French people very much. I am a grazier and have 3000 acres of land, 4000 sheep and 200 beef cattle. I hope to visit France and renew my acquaintance.

I was with the army service corps. I well remember the times when Boche was driving the civilians ahead of him, when he broke through in March 1918. Poor little children, old men and women trudging along in the rain with few belongings. I remember stopping and giving to a mother and her three tiny children a tin of milk and a loaf of bread and how tears came into their eyes. An old priest blessed me. I also remember the brave fortitude of the French people in their great dark hour of trial.

My son returned to England in the last war and he operated in the bombers as an officer and I am pleased to say returned home to Australia again.

I say Viva La France,

Yours Faithfully,

Mr SSM Smith,


South Australia

Mrs Bullard thought the photo was too valuable to not do anything about and emailed it to a few places including a museum, the Musée Somme 1916 in Albert.

The manager of the museum, Blandine Chailland, took an interest in the photo and the story of how it was found and posted it to the museum’s Facebook page.

Thousands of shares and hundreds of comments led to all manner of responses as people worked together to solve the mystery.

“I was overwhelmed by the interest shown by so many people,” Mrs Bullard said.

“Facebook certainly worked wonders in this case.”

A mirror image of words on the building in the background of the photo was soon identified as the bride’s maiden name, Merchez Pot.

The community of people helping to identify the photo said there were too many men in the photo for 1916 as they would have been at war.

It was later confirmed, by descendants of the couple, that the photo was taken at the 1912 marriage of Paul Alfred Hector Pernaut-Caron and Jeanne Juliette Merchez-Pot.

“They eventually traced it to three granddaughters, two are in their 80s and one is late 70s,” Mrs Bullard said.

“One of the granddaughters replied to me in French and a couple of friends have helped translate it.

“It was great excitement for the museum, they loved the exposure.

“It was picked up by a French newspaper and it’s apparently been all over France.

“Blandine has said the family is extremely well known throughout France.

“They are doctors, pharmacists, engineers, and one grandson of the couple was a famous French TV news reporter (Jean-Pierre Pernaut) but he’s since died.”

Mrs Bullard and her husband will be visiting Albert in June to personally deliver the photo to some of the descendants at an event planned by the museum.

The couple already had a trip to Europe planned but once the photo was found a decision was made to include Albert on their itinerary.

Mrs Bullard said her grandfather kept diaries from when he enlisted in 1915.

They were very difficult to read so with the help of her niece Jade Hamilton they deciphered two years worth of his war time activities.

Interest was generated across the country with Mrs Bullard interviewed by French journalists and the story published in a local newspaper and will soon be printed in a Monaco newspaper.

Mrs Bullard told the interviewer her grandfather “was a proud and patriotic man and to deliver this photo to descendants will fill me with great pride.”

“To visit the area where Pop was stationed in the army for three years will be quite emotional.

“Also the fact that he actually sheltered in the house of Jeanne Merchez-Pot and Paul Pernaut-Caron for three days.

“We are looking forward to our visit to Albert very much.”