THE STORY of a hospital chaplain who put a plea out on Facebook for people to attend the funeral of a World War Two veteran will feature on the new BBC series of Heir Hunters.

World War Two veteran James Douglas Knowles, 91, died at Eastbourne District General Hospital in March last year. As James had no known next of kin, hospital chaplain Reverend Nolan was tasked with organising his funeral.

On the day, 120 people turned out to pay their respects including veterans from the Royal Marines, Royal British Legion, 3rd Battalion Queen’s Regiment and coastguards.

The case was advertised by the Government Legal Department as unclaimed the day after the funeral and was picked up by professional probate genealogists and stars of the BBC’s Heir Hunters - Finders International - who soon began to discover distant relatives.

Heir Hunters is a BBC one television programme focusing on attempts to find missing or unknown heirs, entitled to deceased people’s estates before the British Treasury lawfully collects the money. The show follows the work of probate researchers from a number of different firms to show how the results of time-consuming turned out.

Daniel Curran of Finders International said: “It is a sad case when families are not aware of each other. Ideally we would have liked to have worked on the case earlier so that some of the relatives could have attended the funeral and paid their respects.”

The heir hunters learned that James had been a bachelor with no children and it appeared that he had no siblings.

They began looking into cousins. They found Pauline Mott from Herne Bay in Kent - a first cousin once removed, who had previously done her own research into the family tree but hadn’t discovered James.

“It was totally unexpected,” she said. “We had no idea that James existed. It’s very sad to think that none of the family went to his funeral, but what is fantastic is that through Finders International we’ve been put in touch with a lot of our cousins through this.”

As the episode on Monday reveals, it emerged that James’ father George had gone missing when he was younger, so the family had been under the impression that he had died when in fact he had only moved to London and then to the south coast.

A further twist in the story came when a photo turned up of James as a young boy. In it he is pictured with another boy who looks a number of years older.

Finders International traced death records for the deceased’s parents, that showed there was indeed another son, called Alec. Alec served in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Fiji in 1941 – it tragically went down in battle and 241 men lost their lives, including Alec.

James’ parents worked in the Buxton Palace Hotel in Derbyshire before moving to London and then to the Chatsworth Hotel in Eastbourne. Little is known about James’ early life but he served in the forces before moving to Eastbourne.

The story will be broadcast on March 6 as part of the BBC’s new series of Heir Hunters.