A NEWS Shopper story about an American Civil War veteran’s grave in Bexleyheath has helped reconnect a former Dartford resident with his soldier ancestor. 

William Simons, 76, had been trying to fill in some gaps in his family tree without success before one day in January he Googled the name ‘Blazey’.

Up popped a News Shopper piece about the discovery of Private William Blazey’s grave in Bexleyheath cemetery and Mr Simmons was away.

He is William’s great-grandson and it turns out he regularly used to visit the cemetery 60 years before without ever knowing his remarkable ancestor was buried there.

William ran away from his home in Beckenham to the United States before joining the Union army to fight in the US Civil War between 1861 and 1865.

He then returned to London and moved to Erith Road, Bexleyheath, where he ran a sweet shop in Mayplace Road West, opposite The Furze Wren pub, and died in 1921.

News Shopper:

Doug Fidler (left) addresses the party at the graveside ceremony. 

Mr Simons, who grew up in West Hill, Dartford, told News Shopper: "I used to go to that sweet shop and never knew he once owned it. It’s an amazing coincidence.

"I knew he was a veteran but I never knew where he was buried. There were so many Blazeys and people kept saying ‘no, you’re not part of our tree’."

Mr Simons, who now lives in Southampton, visited Bexleyheath cemetery for the first time in six decades on December 7 to attend a ceremony rededicating the restored grave of his great-grandfather.

He was joined by nephew Paul Simons and Bexleyheath resident Alan Nicholls in being inducted into the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War society.

News Shopper:

Doug Fidler at Bexleyheath cemetery. 

Mr Nicholls helped track down the grave with his American brother-in-law and SUVCW member Doug Fidler, Bexleyheath cemetery maintenance man Terry Hopgood and Civil War enthusiast Michael Hammerson.

Mr Nicholls and Mr Hopgood also received the Founders Award – the first non-American citizens ever to have the honour, it is thought.

The award recognises an outstanding contribution in keeping the memory of former Union soldiers alive.

Mr Fidler said: "The fact it was here, in Bexleyheath, got me all excited to do something like this.

"That is the value of small papers because you do the kinds of stories that remind families of who they are."

The American Civil War

- Began in 1861 when southern slave-holding states, fearing their way of life was under threat, split from the northern free states after the election of President Abraham Lincoln.

- It ended in 1865 with the surrender of the southern, or Confederate, forces to the Union army and slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment the same year.

- About 750,000 Americans were killed during the conflict.