A chance comment from a couple who visited the museum because it was raining, led to tears, a surprise and putting to rest a couple of family stories which had endured for a hundred years.
Martyn Sunley from Derbyshire was holidaying in Reeth and decided to pop into Richmond as Martyn’s mum had suggested he visit. His granddad had served in the regiment during the First World War. Luckily Martyn mentioned this as he came into the museum, so we did a bit of looking up while he and his wife were looking round.
Papers and personal effects relating to Martin Sunley were donated to the museum more than 30 years ago. Today was the day we were able to show Martyn letters, official records and objects relating to his grandfather who had first joined the Second Battalion of The Yorkshire Regiment in 1904 and served for seven years. He later rejoined, becoming one of the ‘Old Contemptibles’; experienced soldiers sent to France and Belgium as the British Expeditionary Force when the First World War broke out.
Holding his granddad’s metal dog tag proved to be an emotional moment for Martyn, who couldn’t believe that his grandfather’s file was just sitting here since 1985, waiting for him to come along and find out about the man he had been named after.
Family tradition had it that Grandad Sunley was Martyn with a ‘y’ and his son and then grandson were dutifully named after him, with the same spelling. Martyn was amused to see his granddad’s name repeatedly spelled with an ‘i’.
The papers in our collection include a number of excellent character references from the time when Sunley left the army the first time, as well as the enlistment ledger showing personal details like eye colour and height.
Other documents show the signatures of officers such as Lt Col King and Lt Phayre. They are depicted in our famous Menin Crossroads painting, currently on show in the Aftermath exhibition, but unlike Sunley, they didn’t survive the war.
“It would have been my wish to have met him in person and asked him about his life,” says Martyn. “At least I now know more about him now, thanks to your help, than I did before.”
Acting Sergeant Sunley (pictured left in later life) was discharged from the army in 1916. Talking through the circumstances of this proved slightly more delicate than the issue with his name.
Family legend has it that Martin Sunley’s death was somehow linked to wartime shrapnel near his heart. His discharge papers record him as having a gunshot wound to the right buttock.