When his father lay dying, Houghton Regis senior citizen Harry ‘H’ Ballard made a solemn vow.
“I promised Dad I would pay my respects to his two brothers who lost their lives during the First World War,” he explained.
“Dad was partially blind and couldn’t make the journey to France himself so I said I’d visit their graves before I turned my toes up.”
This summer – thanks to Misty Ballard, his ‘Number One granddaughter,’ her mum and uncle, the 90-year-old finally fulfilled that pledge.
And what an emotional voyage it was.
Harry’s eyes mist over as he talks about the time they spent at Thiepval’s vast Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
The Lutyens monument that towers over the landscape lists the 73,367 British and Comonwealth soldiers who fell during the historic battle and who have no known graves - among them the uncle he was named after.
The former Beds and Herts infantryman - who himself saw service during the Second World War - said: “I’ve never seen a cemetery so big.
“It was so peaceful and undisturbed, so well looked after. Crisp and clean and tidy.
“The turf was soft and springy and every single grave had a rose, clematis or honesuckle.
“I stood in the middle and the perfume was overwhelming. “I was wearing my beret and medals and this lady came over and gave me a beautiful kiss, lips to lips.
“I asked: ‘What was that in aid of, sweetheart?’ And she replied: ‘I’m not English, I’m not American, I’m Australian. And that’s for what you did for us.’”
Harry is still amazed by the memory. “You could have blown me over,” he said. “And I never thought to ask for her address.”
He and Misty, her mum and uncle then visited Saint-Laurent-Blangy where his Uncle Len is laid to rest.
Harry is full of praise for the War Graves Commission and enjoyed his pilgrimage so much he’d like to do it again.
“It was 100 per cent top notch,” he said.
Misty, who lives in Eaton Bray and works as an admin assistant in customer service at Central Beds Council, was so impressed by her family’s service and sacrifice that she came back determined to help a new generation of soldiers.
She’s now regional co-ordinator for Operation Shoebox UK, a charity that sends treats to troops on the front line.
“It’s endorsed by the MOD and it’s something we do all the year round,” she said. “Some guys don’t have families and it’s particularly important for them.”
> Now watch Natalee Hazelwood’s video at www.lutontoday.co.uk