Suitcase rescued from tip reveals family history of WWI soldiers

A suitcase containing photographs, letters and documents from the First World War has been discovered by workers at a Wearside waste plant, following a house clearance. 

The historical artefacts focus on the Cowie family from Sunderland, who lost two relatives during the war, father John Cowie and his two sons Henry and George.

A family tree researcher told ITV News it is "an important find".

Watch @krisjepson's report here:

The suitcase was abandoned in a skip and discovered by workers at Thompson Waste Centre in Sunderland. 

They found carefully preserved documents and photographs which record one family's tragic story of loss during the Great War.

In 1915, Ellen Isabel Stephenson of Southwick Road, Sunderland lost her husband, Coal miner John Cowie 10 days after her son, Henry Cowie, was killed in action in France.

Gareth Thompson, a driver from the waste plant told ITV News it was a moving experience learning about the family's history.

"It’s personal. It’s letters between a husband and wife. It’s letters between a son and his mother. Postcards telling them he’s ok. It’s postcards from friends saying ‘your son is in hospital, but he’s alright’ and then he’s not. It would touch anybody."

Ann Ganley, the owner of the waste plant, commissioned family tree researcher, Meg Hartford, to find out as much about the family as possible.

Meg Hartford discovered that Ellen Stephenson had eight children in all, with her son, George, also going to war, but surviving.

She found Henry was born in 1897 in Sunderland and joined the 15th battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. According to his 'Soldier's Small Book' he was number 15752.

He rose to the rank of Corporal before being killed in action aged just 18 "at a place unknown" on 26 September 1915. He was buried in 1915 in Loos-en-Gohelle, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France.

Unlike Henry, his father, John made it back to England and died at a War Hospital in Croydon, aged 51. He was buried at Southwick Cemetery.

Medals, coins and letters from Kitchener and Winston Churchill were also discovered in the case.

Mrs Ganley is arranging a memorial for the soldiers and is funding the placing of three stones on the National Veterans' Walk in Sunderland, which commemorates the war dead.

Tom Cuthbertson from Veterans' Walk said it’s "absolutely outstanding" to have found the suitcase full of history that’s been "forgotten for years".