Surprise find for Australian who traced mystery WW1 photo to France

The grandfather of the woman who found it was deployed to the Somme with the Australian Imperial Force

An old family photograph found in WW1 showing the relatives of French newsreader Jean-Pierre Pernaut
A note on the picture says: 'found on a battlefield in France after a bombardment War 1916'
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An Australian woman who found a mysterious family photograph dating from World War One has learned that the people in are the relatives of one of France’s biggest household names.

Gill Bullard, 71, from Adelaide, came across the photo while going through boxes at her parents’ home.

On the bottom-right of the photo it says "found on a battlefield in France after a bombardment WAR 1916".

She also found a letter written in 1961 by her grandfather, Sydney Stewart Menzies Smith, a former Australian Imperial Force warrant officer who had been deployed in the Somme.

Addressed to the mayor of Albert (Somme), but never sent, it described how he found the photo in the ruins of a house that was bombed there in 1916 and brought it home with him to Rendelsham, South Australia, in 1919.

The photo depicts around 50 people posing for the camera – now identified as family members of Jean-Pierre Pernaut at a wedding ceremony in Albert.

French newsreader Jean-Pierre Pernaut on the set of 13 heures
Jean-Pierre Pernaut

Mr Pernaut, who died in 2022, was a news presenter and broadcaster, widely-known simply by his initials, JPP.

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Soldier wanted to return photo

In January, Ms Bullard emailed the Musée Somme 1916 – a First World War museum in Albert – which posted it to its Facebook page with a call-out for help. It was viewed more than 700,000 times and shared almost 4,000 times. 

In the letter, Mr Menzies Smith explained how he had tried, and failed, to find the family to give back the photo before returning home. 

He also wrote of his memories of France: “I remember stopping and giving to a mother and her three tiny children a tin of milk and a loaf of bread and how tears came into their eyes. An old priest blessed me. 

“I also remember the brave fortitude of the French people in their dark hour of trial.” 

Mr Smith died two years later in 1963.

One of the museum’s Facebook followers, from the Albert area, identified the bride and the groom (pictured in the centre) as Jeanne Merchez-Pot and Paul Pernaut-Caron, the

grandparents of Mr Pernaut. 

Thierry Gourlin, president of the Musée Somme 1916, said: “This shows the importance placed on remembrance of the war by people from Commonwealth countries.”

The location of the photo was established from the reflected name, at the top of the picture, of a restaurant in Albert that has since become a care home.

The Pernaut family was well-known in the town, as Paul Pernaut-Caron was a respected engineer who worked at the Ateliers Pernaut-Caron, his own workshop, which made machine tools. 

The Albert local who identified the setting of the photo then contacted a cousin of Mr Pernaut, who confirmed that the photo showed both of his grandparents. The wedding is believed to have taken place on November 25, 1912.

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A household name

Mr Pernaut was formerly one of the most famous news- readers in France. He was the regular presenter of 13 heures – TF1’s daily lunchtime news bulletin – from 1988 until he retired in 2020, and was hailed by viewers for giving the show more of a local news touch.

He visited to inaugurate the Place Pernaut-Caron on the site of his family’s former workshops in Albert in 2011, Mr Gourlin said. 

Ms Bullard will visit Albert in mid-June, when she hopes to give the photograph to Mr Pernaut’s cousin.

“I am following my grandfather’s wishes to return the picture to the family in the photo,” she told The Connexion.

“I am very proud to be able to hand-deliver it to their descendants. It has been an exciting process to follow through.”