A PIECE of history rescued from a burning church during the First World War has been returned to its rightful home.

The embroidered banner, which dates back to the 19th century, was donated to Stonyhurst College in 1920.

It was rescued by medical officer Major John Fraser in 1918 during the last phase of the war while fighting took place in the streets and fields around the village of Le Cateau-Cambresis in northern France.

After the war, he tried to return it to Le Cateau but the church was so badly damaged that the parish priest suggested he find a safer home for it.

Major Fraser presented it to the Ribble Valley college ‘in memory of the sacrifice of the young men of England and France in the Great War’.

The banner was displayed in the college museum until the 1970s, when it became too fragile and was put in storage.

Stonyhurst and Major Fraser’s grandson, Jeremy Fraser, decided to restore the banner and return it to its original home at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Le Cateau.

During restoration a piece of paper listing the names of 12 women who had sewn the original banner, and the date July 1873, was found.

A spokesman for the college said: "It is hoped that descendants of the embroiderers may still be living in Le Cateau.

"A moving and emotional ceremony took place on June 28,with a procession through the town to the church, which included the mayor and his staff, the town band, representatives of veterans’ organisations, the college curator, Mrs Graffius, and Mr Fraser and a large number of local people.

"In a speech after the mass, Mrs Graffius mentioned the college’s long links with Saint-Omer, which is quite close to Le Cateau, and the college’s war record.

"After the mass, the banner was blessed and the 500 or so in the congregation sang a hymn to Mary in its honour.

"The mayor and guests processed out to the strains of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’."

The spokesman said a warm welcome was assured to any Stonyhurst student who visited Le Cateau, and it is hoped that a college visit may be possible at some point in the future.

The Catholic boarding school’s roots in England go back to 1794, though it was founded in 1593 not far from Calais.