Tributes have been paid to a Braunton man named ‘the lonely Englishman’ and a Devon medical unit at a town in Northern France to mark the 100th anniversary of its liberation in World War One.

Former North Devon surgeon John Riddington-Young was among those who travelled to St Amand-les-Eaux near Lille for a double commemoration that also gathered to honour the 24th Field Ambulance Devon medical unit.

The unit evacuated more than 2,000 people from the town in the teeth of a ferocious German offensive during the dying weeks of the war in 1918.

Colonel (retired) Riddington-Young, previous commanding officer of the Wessex Field Hospital (the successor to 24 Field Ambulance), was among members of the present (Army Reserve) Field Ambulance to parade through the town to mark the centenary.

He explained that each year the mayor and civic dignitaries of the town also lay a wreath on the grave of the only British soldier buried in the cemetery, Signalman Francis Trute, aged 31, who was born in Barnstaple and lived in Braunton.

The centennial celebration this year was particularly special as Francis’ grandson John and three of his great grandchildren made the trip all the way from Australia for the occasion.

A teacher in the town, Andre de la Bruyer, who had researched the history and created an exhibition in the school where the field hospital had been, managed to trace the family and invite them to attend.

They had not realised their ancestor was still honoured in St Amand and decided to make the trip from Australia to France to attend.

Francis and two other men, one also from Braunton, had been attempting to cross the river Scheldt and establish a bridgehead, but he was cut down by machine gun fire and buried by the Germans on the river bank.

In 1919 his shallow grave was found and he was transferred to the cemetery at St Amand.

The 24th Field Ambulance so impressed the French authorities with its professionalism, tireless devotion to duty and outright bravery, that they gave the unit the Croix de Guerre, a medal awarded for gallantry.

Col Riddington-Young held an army commission since 1974 when he joined as a captain of the 207 General Hospital in Manchester. He served with both Territorial Army and regular army units until he retired 11 years ago aged 60 after 33 years of service.