Netherton man tells of his tribute to war hero grandfather

Robert Sheldon at the grave of his grandfather John - who was a WWI hero

Robert Sheldon at the grave of his grandfather John - who was a WWI hero

First published in News
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A NETHERTON man has told how a computer course helped him uncover the tale of a family war hero.

Retired vehicle mechanic Robert Sheldon began the course at Netherton’s Savoy Centre last year and with help from staff at the centre discovered the remarkable story of his grandfather - Corporal John William Sheldon DCM.

Cpl Sheldon served in World War one as a tunneller, who dug underneath enemy lines and then placed explosives before blowing them up. He never spoke of his heroic exploits and Robert remained unaware of his grandfather’s amazing work.

Robert recalled: "I knew of my granddad, he lived in George Street, Kates Hill and we used to visit him.

"When I was about ten, we just didn't go to visit him anymore. My mum and dad never mentioned granddad or what he did in the war".

John Sheldon had been a miner before war broke out and was an ideal candidate for the dangerous work.

He was awarded the DCM in 1917 - considered second only to the Victoria Cross in prestige - where his despatches read: 'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has rendered invaluable service when removing enemy lines. His experience and gallantry were of the greatest assistance throughout'.

John died in 1964 at Barnsley Hall Hospital in Bromsgrove and is buried at St John's Church in Kates Hill. After locating the grave, Robert found it had fallen into disrepair.

Robert decided to restore the grave and it was in the churchyard that he bumped into a former school friend Jimmy Smart, whose mother was also buried at the church.

Robert said: "I never realised who he was at the time, but Jimmy turned out to be a real friend.

"He used to be a painter and decorator and re-guilded the lettering on the headstone. He didn't even tell me he was going to do it. I cannot thank him enough.”

With the help of his own son John, the grave was eventually made fit for a hero.

Robert, aged 65, said: "By restoring the grave, I think I've done by granddad proud.

"It must have been a terrible ordeal. Conditions were dreadful, waking up every day for four years and thinking it was going to be your last.

"They had to work by candlelight and there was always the fear that the Germans, who were doing exactly the same, would discover the tunnels.

"He didn't get married until 1920, when he was 30, but then went onto have six children.

"Not surprisingly, when he came out of the army, he didn't go back into mining.

"I think the discovery about my granddad was meant to be. I went to do a computer course and ended up with this. It was all a bit of a shock.”

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