Harold Burnley, 74, of Fieldstead Crescent, Newby, was named after his father’s cousin who died in 1917 in Flanders at the age of just 23.
Bombardier Harold Burnley, from Leeds, was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry for actions carried out in a battle at Montabon, in north-west France, when he was with the Royal Field Artillery.
After receiving the medal, among others, he returned home to see his family and wife, but was killed in October 1917 after returning to the front line.
“My family were all incredibly proud of him,” said Mr Burnley. “They would talk about him a lot.
“He went out of his way to enlist for the war as he worked down the mines and colliers were exempt from service.
“As he died at such a young age his wife remarried, to a man called Smith, which made it very hard for my father and I to try and trace her in later life as the number of Smiths just made it impossible.
“We spent a long time trying to trace what happened to his medals but with no luck, there was no internet back then, of course.”
The family thought all hope was lost before Mr Burnley’s son found them for sale on an online antiques website.
Mr Burnley’s wife, Cecily, decided to buy them for her husband as a surprise but the lot was withdrawn after failing to reach its reserve price.
It was then she was forced to tell him after the seller asked for £600.
“I paid it and I would have paid a lot more for them,” said Mr Burnley. “I would have paid anything to get them back into the family. There are four medals in total, we know he had five so one was either lost or sold by his wife, we think.”
One outstanding mystery the family are now hoping to resolve is the reason he was give the Military Medal.
“The family have no record of it and no-one knew for certain why it was awarded, so we hope to find out,” added Mr Burnley.
l Appeal to find family of World War One soldier – see page 37.