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An amazing story of discovery, part I

BeeLines

November 7, 2012
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian (westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net) , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

On an early fall day of Sept. 25, 2010, the Westfield Historian "greymail" trapped what appeared to be a couple of spam or scam messages from the United Kingdom trying to locate someone in Westfield. These were promptly deleted along with the usual batch of spam mail.

On Sept. 27 at 9:41 a.m., John Rawlinson, director of Westfield Development Corporation, sent an email, forwarding a "New Contact Form Submission" from their website, explaining, "Marybelle, I thought the request below might be one that you could respond to." It read, "I live in Chesham just outside London England, recently we visited France Normandy and went to the museum at Ste-Mere-Eglise, there was a history about the 506th Airborne we read about a plane that crashed on D-Day 6th of June carrying para's on their way to invade France, we took the name of Sgt Robert Lincon Todd and visited his grave we had a small ceremony where we laid a wreath of poppies as is the custom in England we took some photo's, when I returned to England I researched the web and found out that he was born in your town Westfield, we thought that if he has any surviving relatives they might like to have the photo's sent to them. Kind Regards, Andy Sergides"

A couple hours later the Westfield Historian replied, commenting about the greymail concerns, and Rawlinson sent back another request just received, "from the guy in England. Can you make contact to show him we are looking into his request and maybe follow up later?" It read: "I have a great friend of mine Mr. David Sheath he was left a letter from his mother when she died recently, it turns out his father was killed on D-Day 6th of June and his name was Sgt Robert L Todd of the 506th Airborne he was born in August 1944 and until this year he had no idea who his father was, he is finding it hard to come to terms with this knowledge, he has two daughters Nicola and Suzanne they would very much like to know if they have any surviving relatives in Westfield as Westfield is where Robert was born in 1923, I have tried to contact you previously but as yet have not had a reply if you have any information can you please mail me or phone me, we live in England ... kind regards Andy Sergides."

Article Photos

Submitted photo
A 2010 photo of David Sheath.

At about noon, Rawlinson copied the historian on his reply to Sergides that she had been sent his requests and to expect a response shortly. A few minutes later, a quick Ancestry.com search located the family on the 1930 U.S. Census for Westfield, when Robert L. Todd was 7 years old. After a quick phone call to verify more, this information was sent to Sergides, also explaining there is a white cross bearing the name of Robert L. Todd in the Westfield Cemetery in the World War II Memorial area along with others who died serving from Westfield.

Andy Sergides replied, "Thanks Marybelle I was beginning to run out of ideas to help us locate Roberts family, I am sure you will be discreet but I think that the one thing that my friend David is frightened of doing is opening up a can of worms and upsetting relatives and friends that were left behind after his death in France."

By 1:50 p.m., more Ancestry.com information was shared, and there are quite a few living relatives here in Westfield, including Todd's older sister. Also, although Todd's younger sister is deceased, her daughter is alive and lives in Westfield. Concern about the delicate nature of the situation was expressed, and further information and guidance from Sergides was sought regarding how to proceed. The requested information was shared, but Sergides asked "Please don't contact any of Robert's relatives yet, this has all gone very quick and I need to speak to David's daughters just to make sure that they still want this to go ahead." Later he replied he'd spoken to Nicola, passed on all the emails exchanged and he preferred to let Sheath or his family decide what to do and contact me directly. All of these email exchanges above took place on Sept. 27, 2010.

Fact Box

The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union Street, in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m., or by appointment. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457, and the email mail address is westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010, the following email was received from Andy Sergides: "Hi Marybelle - I have today spoken to my friend David Sheath, he now would very much like to his fathers sister, another member of Robert's family might be better for him to write to someone less close first or maybe your good self - it's obviously a delicate situation and needs to be handled gently ... I have included a photo of David from my daughter's wedding."

Finally, on Oct. 12, 2010 the following email was received: "Hello Marybelle, My name is David Sheath and I understand that my friend Andy Sergides has been communicating with you about my father Robert Todd. My mother died in December 2002 without ever talking to me about my father. Her sister Barbara (still alive) apparently persuaded her to leave me a letter on her death revealing who my father was. In the letter she named him as Robert Lincoln Todd a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. 8th Army Air Force stationed near the village of Clare in Suffolk. He had met my mum who was working for the Admiralty, in 1943. She wrote that she thought the family possibly came from Ohio and that the grandparents had emigrated from Scotland. I think she had assumed that Bob had run away when my mum told him that she was pregnant! I do not believe that she ever knew he had been killed in action before my birth on the 24th August 1944. I presume he had kept secret the plans for the invasion of Normandy. I wrote to the American authorities in 2002 after opening my mum's letter, asking for more information about Bob. It was then that I learnt he had been killed on June 6th 1944. They gave me his grave location but could not give me any more information as his records had been destroyed in a fire. I did not proceed further as I had no address to write to. It was only through my friend's interest in visiting Normandy and finding out about his hometown and then contacting you that I have been encouraged to follow things up! I would dearly love to have a photo of my father and some background to his life. I am hoping you could make the first contact for me? My mother's name was Audrey Stella Sheath. She never married and I was her only child ... It has been quite a welcome shock to find that I have another family after all these years. With very best wishes, David Sheath"

On Oct. 20, 2010, I replied to Sheath, explaining my mother knew Todd and his family, including his older sister who now lived a few doors from me, and we were prayerfully discerning the most appropriate way to approach the sister. I thanked him for sharing with me, and trusting me to attempt to connect with his previously unknown relatives.

Next week, read the incredible reunion story in the words of Sheath's discovered relatives.

 
 

 

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