Doncaster family find a letter from WW2 which reveals their relative's history

Uncle Johnny became an Askern legend due to the mystery surrounding his disappearance - he was once presumed missing in action but it is now known to have died in one of the biggest battles of WW2.

Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 13th January 2020, 5:19 pm

John Edward Smith was aged 21 when he died in the skirmishes leading up to the Battle of Monte Cassino - he was part of the Durham Light Infantry in the 1st airborne division.

Originally from Askern his family presumed him missing but a recent discovery of a telegram letter has led to the knowledge that he is buried at Monte Cassino cemetery in Italy.

Emma Smith, aged 46, from Askern, descendant of the veteran, said: “It’s remarkable what we’ve found out about Uncle Johnny through the letter.

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John Smith with the letter.
John Smith with the letter.

“For starters we had no idea that he was dead - our family was told that he was missing in action during the war but we were never sure that he had died.

“This feels like a missing piece to us, something that we always have believed has suddenly changed.

“We are already planning a trip to the cemetery in Italy.

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“It quite poignant that no one has ever visited his grave and this feels like a chance for us to put that right.”

The letter was found by Mark Greig, the owner of The Clutter Busters, when his team cleaned out a home which belonged to a recently deceased family member.

When Mark found the letter he posted a photo online.

“Someone on our Facebook page did a little bit of research and found out where he was buried, down to the plot number,” Mark said.

“The family didn’t have a clue about the letter - they knew of the soldiers existence but nothing about how he died or any of the history,” Mark continued.

John Smith, aged 71, was named after his uncle and this lead to him taking up a keen interest in his life.

He said: “Because of the legends which we’re built up around Uncle Johnny I wrote a book called Betty which incorporated all those stories which I learnt about him from my parents and grandparents.”