The great-niece of a First World War soldier will join dignitaries including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a special ceremony to mark 100 years since Britain joined the conflict.
Helen Jones will be the first member of her family to visit the grave of her great-uncle Private George Bellamy as she attends a special evening ceremony at St Symphorien military cemetery near Mons, Belgium, on Monday.
Mrs Jones and her husband will be among a guest list that includes William and Kate, as well as Prince Harry, at the cemetery.
Other services are to take place in Belfast, London and Glasgow as part of nationwide commemorations of the centenary of the start of the First World War.
The 57-year-old plans to lay some flowers on the grave of Pte Bellamy, of 2nd Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment, in a “thank you” for the sacrifice made by him, and millions of other soldiers.
Mrs Jones said the first thing she knew about her great-uncle was when her brother Paul, who had started carrying out his own research into Pte Bellamy, contacted her while she was on holiday in Thailand to say he had been invited to the ceremony but could not go, and said she should go.
The NHS administrator, from Westwoodside, north Lincolnshire, said: “I’m all that way away in Thailand thinking, ‘I don’t know what it’s all about’.
“I came home, shot off up to Bradford where my brother lives, where George actually came from, and found out about it.”
Pte Bellamy was her own father’s uncle, she said – the older brother of her grandfather.
“My dad never spoke about this, it just was never discussed at all so I had no idea,” she said.
“George was 23 I think when he went to war, but he must have been a professional soldier because he went out with the British Expeditionary Force.”
He died on August 26 1914 – just days into the Battle of Mons – she said.
And the family has since found out that he had a son, born in 1915, whose mother died in the same year.
“The child died when he was 19 so it’s really sad,” she said.
“George’s father died in 1914 as well so he died, his father died, his partner died the year after and his son died 19 years after that, so it’s all a bit tragic and sad.”
Mrs Jones, who is taking the trip to France and Belgium with husband Mark, 58, said Monday was likely to be an emotional occasion.
The mother-of-three said she did not originally feel much of a link to her great-uncle, but added: “As I’ve looked more and more into it, and talked about it, and looked at photographs, I feel quite close now.
“I think it’s going to be a real tear-jerking time because nobody in the Bellamy family, I’m sure, will have been out and seen it, because nobody knew about it.
“I really want to lay some flowers on George’s grave and just say, ‘You know what, thanks, because you changed the world for us’.
“’Without it it wouldn’t be the same place’.
“They just gave everything.
“A whole generation almost of young men just disappeared, we just can’t credit it.
“I’ve got three sons and I can’t imagine what they must have felt like just seeing them go and never coming back.”
Of Monday’s ceremony, she said: “I feel honoured.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime that we’ll just never forget.
“I don’t know quite how I will feel when I actually see the grave, but in a strange way I’m looking forward to it and I really want to find out more about it if I can.
“I think it’s really important that people remember, because it’s a massive deal.
“It’s always been a massive deal but it’s faded into the background with all the wars that came after it, and people have died, and people didn’t talk about people who had gone to war.
“I know my husband’s father, he was in the war, they just never talked about it.
“It was like, ‘It happened, we came home, we don’t want to remember it’.
“But it needs to be remembered and we need to pass it on.
“The little bit of information I’ve got I’ve shared with my boys and they’re really interested and I hope they will pass it on when they have families, life events just overtake it and we shouldn’t forget.”