The incredible story of a Penygroes soldier’s narrow escape from death has been revealed – thanks to a chance hearing of a radio show.

For the past few years, members of the village History Society have been attempting to discover the identity of a young soldier, known to have come from Penygroes, in a photograph in its archive.

The boy in uniform is seen holding a dented cigarette case, but discovering his name or anything else about him had proved all but impossible.

Chairman Adrian Davies said the picture was one of a group of images of soldiers taken during the First World War that had been donated to the society ahead of the events arranged to commemorate the outbreak of the conflict.

“We had a member whose grandfather was a photographer in Penygroes during the early part of the century,” said Mr Davies.

“He gave me a pile of old photos and we, as a society, set about trying to identify them.

“We managed to put a name to all the pictures except one – the photo of this young lad holding a dented cigarette case.

“Over the next few it became a favourite picture of mine and we were determined to find out who he was but got nowhere.

“We knew he was from Penygroes, but nothing more – and that seemed the end of it.”

The end, that is, until Mr Davies happened to by listening to Roy Noble’s BBC Radio Wales show on August 16.

“I was listening to the show as Roy was interviewing John Thomas from Bridgend who said his father had been shot in August 1915 at Suvia Bay in the Gallipoli campaign during World War One,” said Mr Davies.

“He had only survived because the bullet had hit a cigarette case in his breast pocket.

“John said he still had the case which had saved his father’s life.

“The Imperial War Museum has only one confirmed record of such a thing happening before, but I know they have identified the soldier in their records and he was not our man.

“So when John told Roy that his father originally came from Penygroes I could not believe my ears.”

Mr Davies immediately contacted the show and was put in touch with Mr Thomas.

“There was absolutely no doubt we were talking about the same person,” said Mr Davies.

The story of John Thomas, senior, turned out to be an incredible tale straight out of a Boy’s Own adventure book.

John Thomas was an apprentice tailor whose friend and next door neighbour signed up soon after the outbreak of the war in 1914.

John however was much too young to join, but his pal allowed him to try on his uniform and hold his gun. The experience would change his life.

In January 1915, John kissed his mother goodbye and set off for work as usual, but rather than arriving at the draper’s shop in Ammanford, he caught a train to Brecon where, lying about his age, he joined 4th Battalion, Welsh Regiment.

The 15-year-old became Private Thomas, Service Number 813, and on July 19 set sail aboard the SS Mauritania.

On August 9, he landed at Suvia Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

The Allies suffered horrendous casualties as Turkish snipers picked them off from the cliffs above and Pte Thomas was shot in the heart – or at least he would have been if not for the cigarette case in his pocket.

It is believed that the unlikely incident pre-dated the one other recorded incident detailed by the Imperial War Museum.

“As far as we know this was the first case of such a thing ever actually happening in British military history,” said Mr Davies.

Mr Davies travelled to meet Mr Thomas and show him the picture of his father.

“He had no idea that this photograph even existed,” said ~Mr Davies.

“It was a marvellous moment to meet him and hand over the picture while also solving our own war-time mystery.”

The photograph, along with the dented cigarette case, has no gone on display at Porthcawl Museum.