Builder discovers poignant 1939 artefact left by Melton war heroes

Builder Jake Burdett and Richard Sage hold a cigarette packet with was written on by builders in 1939 and left in the brickwork before being found by Jake EMN-170205-104550001
Builder Jake Burdett and Richard Sage hold a cigarette packet with was written on by builders in 1939 and left in the brickwork before being found by Jake EMN-170205-104550001

A cigarette packet written on and left by builders in the brickwork of a Melton house two months before they went off to serve in the Second World War has been discovered during renovation work on the property.

The box is inscribed in pencil with the date, July 1939, and the names of five workmen employed by Denmans at the home, 4 Gloucester Avenue.

A cigarette packet written on and left by builders in the brickwork of a Melton house in July 1939 EMN-170205-111356001

A cigarette packet written on and left by builders in the brickwork of a Melton house in July 1939 EMN-170205-111356001

One of the five names is that of Richard Burton, who five years later was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) - the highest military honour - for his bravery during the campaign in Italy.

The Gallaher’s Park Drive Navy Cut cigarette packet was discovered by Jake Burdett on Thursday while he was knocking through a wall into the kitchen with a colleague.

He said: “We were taking the wall apart brick by brick and I saw this packet just perched in the brickwork.

“I looked inside it and the first thing I saw was that the date July 1939 had been written on it.

“It’s amazing now to think that those guys were laying bricks in July and by September they went off to fight in a war.”

The names of the other four builders on the packet are T Williams, Ron Sage, Frank Morrell and Billy Woodman.

Ron was the father of Richard Sage (70), who has run Craven Street Stores with his wife Ann for 32 years.

He became aware of the discovery after Jake posted a picture of the packet on Facebook with a message asking if anyone knew the five men whose names are on it.

“I was amazed to see it,” said Richard. “It’s quite poignant to think these were young lads aged 17, 18 or 19 and they were about to go off to war.”

Ron, who was 17 at the time, and his pals were employed by Tom Denman to build properties in the Gloucester Avenue and other parts of the town.

When they headed off to war, Ron joined the Royal Inniskilling Engineers and drove ammunition lorries in Africa and Monte Cassino.

His friend Richard Burton joined the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and in 1944 he showed extreme bravery by taking a strategically vital position near Florence.

Denmans has continued to flourish as a family building firm since starting up in 1880.

Steve Denman, whose father Tom ran the business in the 1930s, said the firm built many properties in that area of town, using a horse and cart to transport materials.