Researching his family tree, Gordon Elsworth discovered a secret family he never knew he had.

The Poole man found cousins, tragic tales of infant deaths, and three uncles who fought in the First World War – two of whom survived.

“My Dad, Sidney, never spoke about them,” said Gordon, 77, a printer at the then Bournemouth Daily Echo from 1951 to 1988. There was no falling out, it was just a big family who did not often meet.

“My father rarely had contact with his brothers and sisters. When he died at the age of 54, only two of his brothers attended his funeral, Ernest and Reginald. This was the one and only time we ever met,” said Gordon of Pound Lane.

His grandfather Emmanuel had 12 children by two wives and when Gordon began seeking his family history in 2000 it was thanks to cousins Pamela and Edna and Gwen Elsworth that he discovered so much about his Blackmore Vale family.

Herbert Elsworth, the first child of Emmanuel and Martha, was born in 1887. He worked as a gardener before joining the army and serving in India with the Second Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment in 1911.

Private Elsworth saw action in Mesopotamia – now Iraq – however he died of dysentery on July 16 1916, aged 29. He is commemorated not just at the Bagdad (North Gate) War Cemetery but also at the Broadstone War Memorial and in the church of St Nicholas at Corfe Mullen.

His step-brothers – whose mother was Emmanuel’s second wife Amy – Edwin Charles and Frederick James Elsworth volunteered to fight for their country, joining the Dorset Yeomanry and going to Egypt together – although Frederick was under age.

“They got to know Lawrence of Arabia very well,” said Gordon. “Frederick was upset by the film made about Lawrence as he felt it didn’t ‘do him justice’, his daughter Gwen said.”

Fred was invalided out of the army with rheumatic fever and went to work as a gardener. He died in 1980, aged 83. Edwin was also invalided out of the army and died in 1972 at the age of 76.

“I think it’s fantastic to volunteer,” said Gordon.

“They obviously didn’t know what they were getting into.”