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How death of First World War veteran who worked for the Kilburn Times brought together long-lost cousins

PUBLISHED: 14:27 16 November 2018

William Percival in the Willesden Chronicle and Kilburn Times offices in the early 1940s.

William Percival in the Willesden Chronicle and Kilburn Times offices in the early 1940s.

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A front page from the Kilburn Times dating back to the Second World War brought together a pair of long-lost cousins – who didn’t even know of each other’s existence.

Martin Percival with the front-page story of his grandfather's death - and a modern-day copy of the Brent & Kilburn Times. Picture: Emily WebberMartin Percival with the front-page story of his grandfather's death - and a modern-day copy of the Brent & Kilburn Times. Picture: Emily Webber

Jenny Hodgkinson, 69, was sorting through the attic of her late grandmother Helen Smith (neé Percival) when she discovered a front page obituary for a man called William Percival – who had been the newspaper’s advertising manager.

She said: “I knew it was someone in the family because he looked almost identical to my father.”

After searching online for the man’s name, Jenny stumbled across William’s grandson Martin Percival, 55, who had prepared a presentation on the paper for the Willesden History group.

After contacting Martin, Jenny said she was “over the moon” to find her grandmother and Martin’s great-grandfather were siblings.

The story behind William’s death, whose coverage on the front page of the Willesden Chronicle and Kilburn Times brought the cousins together, is a sad one.

Martin, who was 18 when his father Frank died, first saw the obituary while going through his dad’s belongings in 1983.

He said: “It was interesting yet sad that I didn’t have time to discuss that with my dad.”

It turned out William had served his country in the Great War, as well as spending four decades at the paper you are holding now.

He was born in 1888, the son of a postman and one of seven children.

William Percival in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Picture: Courtesy of Martin PercivalWilliam Percival in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Picture: Courtesy of Martin Percival

At 15, he left St Augustine’s School and joined the paper in Cambridge Avenue, Kilburn, as an office boy.

Print was in the Percival blood: William’s brother Ernest was an apprentice printer along with their cousin Henry Halling, while his younger sister Alice worked as an office clerk.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, William was called up to serve his country, and at 26 he was fighting on the Western Front.

By 1916, with the shortage of British army officers, William was identified as having officer potential despite his position as Private.

He was returned to Britain to complete his training and was back in the trenches by 1918.

In the same year, on May 26, William became a father to Francis William Percival – Martin’s dad Frank.

After serving as a major in the Royal Garrison Artillery, William was sent to the Rhine in Cologne before at last resuming his position as advertising manager at the papers in 1920, where his dedication led to his promotion to general manager in 1930 – 27 years after he first walked through the door.

Sadly, within a decade, it was his turn to wave his own son goodbye.

While serving in the Second World War, Francis was captured by the Japanese in Singapore and sent to a prisoner of war camp.

For more than two years after he was officially reported missing in March 1942, William heard nothing from his son.

The growing burden of stress and worry resulted in his death from a heart attack at his home in Doyle Gardens, Harlesden, on August 11, 1944, aged just 56.

When Francis returned home, he was told on his father’s doorstep that his dad was dead.

But the journalist inside the younger Percival found its way out, and Frank put pen to paper to write of his time as a prisoner.

Martin, 55, said: “I think he was a frustrated journalist. In the ideal world he would have worked as a journalist for the Willesden Chronicle and Kilburn Times.

“He once did tell me actually that it was his aspiration.”

Shortly after William’s death, the Willesden Chronicle and Kilburn Times ran a front-page obituary entitled: “A Sad Loss to Willesden”. It was that cutting that was discovered in Jenny’s grandmother’s attic – and the rest is history.

The paper described William as “deservedly popular with all who knew him, and particularly, with every section of the staff, who always found him a loyal and true friend”.

“It was a bit of a difficult topic for my dad,” said Martin, “because he didn’t know that his own father was dead while he was in the prisoner of war camp.”

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