Niece, 94, receives medal of fallen hero Frank

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A First World War medal found buried in a Luton garden has been reunited with the niece of the fallen soldier it honoured.

It was a story which ignited the interest of Luton News readers in November after the medal was unearthed from the garden of Stopsley couple Clint and Gemma Jell.

After appealing to help find the relatives of Frank Gates, the soldier behind the medal, his closest living relative, niece Olive Bellingham, was successfully tracked down.

The daughter of Frank’s sister, Olive, 94, said: “I’ve been thinking a lot about it since I read the story.

“I’d always known about him, but my mother didn’t used to talk about it much – only to say what a shame it was that he died.”

On Sunday afternoon, Olive gathered with family members at Luton Christian Fellowship in Castle Street to be presented with the medal in a formal ceremony.

It was an event full of memories for Olive, who used to attend Sunday school in the same building as a child.

Pastor Alan West recounted the “amazing “ story of the retrieved medal, which had also unveiled the history of Frank’s life.

Gemma Jell said: “It was a black clump when we found it, you couldn’t read anything.”

After leaving the object in a glass of coke overnight, the Jells were amazed to find a well-preserved 1914-1915 medal issued to Pte F Gates, bearing his service number.

Talking about the medal, Clint said: “It does mean a lot to me, I’ve always appreciated the sacrifices our men and women did for us in both wars.”

And it seems Olive was the last person in her family to know about Frank.

Her niece Freda White, who also attended the service, said: “I read that first article and the name Frank Gates didn’t mean anything to me.

“It was only when I read the second story about Frank’s life, looked down and saw my parents’ names that I thought ‘that’s me!’”

In a curious twist, it turns out that Gemma Jell is also a distant relative of the family, descended from Frank’s cousin.

Private Frank Gates was only 23 when he died on July 1 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Born into a hat-making family in Luton’s High Town, Frank parents died young, leaving him with one sister, Louisa. He worked in the factory of George Kent Ltd and worshipped in Luton’s Wesleyan Chapel. He enlisted at the start of the war.

From the misery of the trenches, he wrote an eloquent letter to his fiancee Eva Lane encouraging her to be happy, which was printed in his obituary in the Luton News on July 23, 1916.