Fifty relatives of an Eastbourne war hero have been discovered after a chaplain feared nobody would turn up to his funeral.

James Knowles, 91, died at the Eastbourne DGH earlier this year after a fall and hospital chaplain Reverend Dennis Nolan could not trace any relatives.

He feared there would be nobody at the funeral so he issued a plea on social media and around 100 people turned up, most who had never met Mr Knowles.

Now it has emerged more than 50 relatives have been traced throughout the UK, who will all become beneficiaries of Mr Knowles’ will, by Finders International, a probate genealogist company.

Case researcher Camilla Price said none of the relatives she found and contacted had any idea that James Knowles existed. Camilla Price from Finders said,

James was an only child and many of his parents close relatives were born in the 1800s – so obviously these have all passed away.

The relatives I traced are very distant – in many cases cousins twice removed from the deceased. They are spread all over the UK with a couple living in Australia and Canada.

Several of his relatives were very shocked and saddened that they didn’t know him and that they couldn’t attend his funeral. “More than anything else the majority of his relatives were really interested in learning more about their family tree, which I am putting together for them.

Finders International – an heir hunting company that regularly appears on BBC Heir Hunters and Family Finders – unfortunately started their research the day after Mr Knowles funeral, as that was when his name and details were released on the Bona Vacantia list produced by the government.

This lists people who have died with no known relatives.

Daniel Curran from Finders said, It is a sad case indeed 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. We find next of kin in 98 percent of cases within 24 hours so time is always of the essence.

Mr Knowles lived his later years in Gladstone Court, in Terminus Road.

His parents had strong connections with Eastbourne even though they were both born in northern England.

His father was born in Bakewell, Derbyshire, and his mother in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

It is thought they met through their work – they were both in the hotel industry.

The couple moved to Eastbourne in 1923 where they married at the registry office.

His father George Douglas Knowles worked as a hotel lift porter and his mother Gertrude Annie Knowles was a chambermaid.

James was born to the couple in Eastbourne in 1924.

James’s parents latterly moved to Chelsea in London, where James lived with them until they died. He then moved back to his hometown.

Finders International discovered many family members belonging to Mr Knowles father with fewer on the side of his mother.

Many interesting occupations were uncovered from census documents of his distant relatives including that of a railway engineer fireman, a silver smith and a police constable.

This story first featured in the EastbourneHerald