Medals reunited with Shipdham family after 50 years
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
But for over 50 years one family in Shipdham thought that the three medals awarded posthumously to a brave son and brother after his death in the First World War were lost forever.
Now, thanks to some detective work by three village historians, the medals have not only been found but have been reunited with a nephew.
Harry Rudling, a 25-year-old soldier with the Norfolk Regiment, died on October 13, 1915, on the last day of the Battle of Loos.
His body was never found but he was awarded three medals posthumously to mark his bravery - the 1915 Star, the British War medal and the Victory medal.
They were initally presented to his parents William and Emily Rudling, who lived in the village, along with a scroll and death plaque and after their death were passed on to Harry's sister Emma.
In her old age she went to live with her son Walter at 17 Swathing in the nearby village of Cranworth.
For some unknown reason, after her death in the early 1960s, Walter burned all his mother's unwanted belongings on a bonfire in the garden. Among them were his uncle's medals.
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The house was sold later that decade and first Russell and Heather Brown moved in, and then in the 1970s it was occupied by a family called Fitt.
It appeared that the medals would never be seen again.
But when Shipdham History Group appealed for information about WWI men lost from the village to help with research into their lives, Mrs Fitt, who had later moved to Shipdham, remembered her sons digging up a Victory medal 40 years earlier in the Cranworth garden with the name Rudling inscribed on it. She found it and offered it to them for the project.
The three history group friends - Beanie Brown, Sue Dewing and Marlene Secker - were then astonished to discover in a conversation with Russell and Heather Brown about the house in Cranworth that they too had found medals 50 years previously - and had kept them.
'We only discovered the link on Saturday and they turned the house upside down to find them,' said Beanie Brown.
'There is no question that these were also Harry Rudling's medals. They told us that Russell had dug over the the whole garden when he came out of the Navy and found the medals with the ribbons all burned.'
The medals had not only survived the fire but also house moves with both families and were finally reunited at the Shipdham Remembrance Service at All Saints Church on Sunday, where Harry's nephew Jim Rudling was able to see them together for the first time in over half a century.
'I think it is wonderful, I really do,' said the 88-year-old, who has lived in Shipdham all his life and whose father Walter was Harry's younger brother.
'I didn't know anything about Harry but what these ladies have done to find the medals is incredible. I am so happy to have them back in the family.'
Rev Gill Wells, who told the story of the medals' reunion to an astonished congregation of around 100 worshippers on Sunday, said many were quite emotional.
Beanie Brown added: 'Poor Harry Rudling may have been lost in the muddy fields of France but the medals which honoured his sacrifice still keep his memory alive for they refused to remain lost in the soil of Norfolk.'
Shipdham History Group is still working on its First World War project, writing the lives of each of the 29 men lost, to be published in a book next year. Once this is completed the medals will be passed back to the Rudling family to be kept for posterity.
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