Mysteries of WWI soldier's life revealed by firefighters

TRIBUTE: Some of the brigade members bound for France this month. Corporal John Sparks’ photo and original medals appear in the frames behind.
TRIBUTE: Some of the brigade members bound for France this month. Corporal John Sparks’ photo and original medals appear in the frames behind.

A GROUP of CFA volunteers travels to France this month to conduct a graveside service for a Wonthaggi firefighter killed in action in 1916.

They will gather in full firefighting uniform in the town of Albert to honour Corporal John Sparks, among others, who never returned from the Great War.

Any Wonthaggi brigade member over the past century would have seen the framed photo of Sparks at the station, with others from the brigade who died. But no one knew much about him.

Research by brigade members revealed that after surviving Gallipoli, Sparks was sent to France, where he was killed, aged 24. Later they connected with family members from Wonthaggi and Drouin, who presented his service medals to the brigade.

Then through the War Memorial Archive, they procured 77 pages of copied documents on Sparks, and much more of his story came to light. And what a story it is.

After Gallipoli he spent time in England, where he fell in love with a young Englishwoman, knowingly leaving her pregnant and intending to return. He died in France not knowing he had a son.

When the War Office tried to find his relatives to present them with his medals, it transpired Sparks was born out of wedlock, although he didn’t know it.

He thought his grandfather was his father and his aunts were his sisters. His real mother had left after giving birth, never to return. She married a Mr Lamb, who later put in a claim on behalf of their children for a war pension, given his wife was the birth mother of Sparks.

The War Office gave the medals to the youngest aunt, Frances, who had essentially brought Sparks up.

Another twist in the tale is when the medals, but nothing else, were stolen from Frances’ home. She reported the theft but the medals came back – thrown through a window of her house.

As Lamb was pressing for the pension, someone else emerged – Lucy Lockett and her three-year-old son, John William Lockett, the illegitimate child of Sparks.

The group travelling to France will visit the grave in Albert. While there, his family will also try to connect with the Lockett family.

This story Final plot twist to story of love, war first appeared on The Senior.

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