A POIGNANT carol composed by a nine-year-old girl to cheer the "gallant soldiers" of World War One will be sung for the first time in a century on Christmas Day.

Little Annie Palmer, of Kendal, dedicated "A Christmas Hymn" to troops facing Christmas 1914 in the trenches of France and Flanders.

For decades it was forgotten in an old box of memorabilia in the attic of her childhood home, along with two other musical pieces.

The fragile manuscripts were discovered by her first cousin once removed, Fiona Walker-Quilliam, when she was clearing out the house at Cliff Terrace, Kendal, before it was sold in 1999.

For years Fiona, who works at health food store Holland & Barrett, was unsure what to do with the sheet music until the Armistice centenary approached.

She then decided "its time had come" and asked for Annie's hymn to be sung on December 25 at Kendal's Unitarian Chapel - more than 100 years after the schoolgirl set to music her words asking Jesus to "guide and cheer" the soldiers.

"It has taken me a while to arrange this but I am very pleased it is finally happening," said Fiona, who married husband Roger Quilliam at the chapel in 2017.

"It's probably the first time it's ever been heard outside the family and it merits being given a public airing.

"I hope Annie would be really happy about it."

Fiona, who used to be a professional tapestry weaver, has researched her family tree and said she feels "quite close" to the artistic, creative Palmer family, although she never met them. Sincere Christians, keen ramblers, cyclists and botanists, they belonged to an amateur theatrical group and a choral society.

Annie, her younger sister, Jean, and their mother, Annie, created pewter boxes and tooled leather handbags which Fiona still has. Their father, William Thomas "WT" Palmer, of Burneside, was "a sort of Edwardian version of Alfred Wainwright", a prolific author and founder member of the Fell and Rock Society.

Annie, who went on to marry a Scottish pharmacist and died in 1968, was especially musical and a talented pianist.

Several of her relatives served in the war, and her second cousin was killed in 1916. Edwin Ben Simpson Ion had worked as a print compositor at The Westmorland Gazette before emigrating to Canada.

Fiona said she expects to feel "quite emotional" when the hymn is sung on Christmas morning, accompanied by chapel treasurer John Campbell on the organ.

"Through Annie's music her voice becomes clear again," said Fiona, "in all its innocent enthusiasm - a memorial and tribute to a talented young girl, with all her life ahead of her."

Mr Campbell, one of two organists at the chapel, described the hymn as "rather sweet".

"The words are of their period and they might not be words people would write nowadays - phrases like "great God of Battles" - but I don't think that matters," he said.

"She was nine years old and wrote this herself and it was a very sweet gesture on her part. That's why we are going to sing it on Christmas Day."

Everyone is welcome at the 10.30am service, titled Touching Harps of Gold, with sherry, shortbread and Cumbrian gingerbread to follow in the vestry.