War medal inscription brings couple to Gainsborough to learn more about their history

Philip and Hanlie du Toit at the gravestone of Lieut. L. J. Vanstaden R.A.F.
Philip and Hanlie du Toit at the gravestone of Lieut. L. J. Vanstaden R.A.F.

A South African couple want to learn more about their history and heritage and a war medal has led them to Gainsborough.

The Friends of Gainsborough Cemeteries and Chapel opened the cemetery on Sunday, May 15, as part of the West Lindsey Churches Festival and they were joined by visitors who were born in South Africa.

Philip and Hanlie du Toit, now living on the Isle of Man, visited the cemetery to learn about their history and family heritage.

Several years ago Philip’s mother gave him what he thought was a coin but recently he learned that it was a medal which was inscribed with Lieut. L. J. Vanstaden R.A.F.

This led Philip and his wife Hanlie to investigate and they discovered that the medal was awarded to Lieut. Laurens Jacobus Van Staden who was Philip’s grandmother’s brother.

Searching online they discovered that Laurens was buried in Gainsborough in 1918 and found that the Friends of Gainsborough Cemeteries and Chapel had also been trying to find out more about him because they were restoring his headstone.

The cross marking on his grave had been broken several years ago.

The Friends were able to provide some additional information about Laurens.

He had married Emmeline Elizabeth Beilby from Tower Street, Gainsborough, in All Saints’ Church on February 2, 1918 and his best man was fellow South African R.A.F. officer, Lt. C.B. Mellor.

But just a few months later, on April 26, Laurens was killed while flying at night at Kirton-in-Lindsey.

Laurens and Emmeline lived at Jubilee Crescent, however, finding out what happened to Emmeline Elizabeth after her husband’s death proved to be impossible for the Friends.

There appears to be no record of her remarrying or when and where she died.

Philip and Hanlie were determined to find out more and during a visit to relatives in South Africa at Christmas they found a photograph of Laurens in a family album in his R.A.F. uniform stood next to a plane.

But again there was still no clue about what happened to Emmeline.

Following their visit to his grave Hanlie and Philip want to find out if there are still any descendants of the Beilby’s in the area.

The Beilbys and Wordsworths, which was Emmeline’s mother’s maiden name, were a large family and Philip and Hanlie hope there may be someone still living in the area who holds the key to finding out more about Emmeline.

If you have any information which could help Philip and Hanlie please call Peter Bradshaw on 01427 610507.