David Walliams has discovered his paternal great-grandfather was a First World War hero driven insane by the horrors of battle.
The Britain’s Got Talent star also found out in BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are? that he is descended from a blind traveller who begged for a living as an organ-grinder.
John George Boorman, a married labourer with three kids, enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in 1914 aged 32.
By 1915 he was in the trenches, facing a landscape ravaged by shells and strewn with corpses. Looking at a picture, Walliams says: “If you want to imagine hell, it’s like this.”
Shell-shocked after a few months, he returned to Britain but was sent back to the slaughter of the Somme in 1916.
He later fought at the bloody battle of Passchendaele.
Visiting the site of the trenches, Walliams, 49, is told that his great grandad was sent over the top to face the Germans at 4.30am on July 31, 1917, shells flying and bodies all around him.
Shaken Walliams says: “Death is everywhere. Terrifying.”
Wounded, the horror stayed and in 1919 John was sent to an asylum in Surrey.
He sadly died there in 1962.Walliams’ great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side, William Haines, was also struck by tragedy when he was blinded by surgery to correct cataracts in the 1880s.
In 1896, he left Salisbury to beg at Portsmouth docks with an organ, a monkey and two of his kids.
Walliams laughs: “A blind musician from Portsmouth? The perfect BGT contestant. He’d win hands down.”
By 1911, William was running a variety of funfair attractions and the family were making a good living, helped in no small part by William’s “energetic and dynamic wife” Julia.
Visiting the sort of wagon the family would have lived in, Walliams declares: “It’s beautiful. What an extraordinary lifestyle. I had no idea I came from travelling people. My granny never mentioned it.”
*Who Do You Think You Are? Next Monday, October 19, 9pm BBC1.
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