Norfolk soldiers' graves to be marked

After more than 80 years lying in unmarked graves, two Norfolk soldiers are in line finally to receive recognition for their bravery during the first world war.

After more than 80 years lying in unmarked graves, two Norfolk soldiers are in line finally to receive recognition for their bravery during the first world war.

Private Thomas Yaxley and Sapper Samuel Sharpe may soon have gravestones erected in St Mary's churchyard at Little Walsingham thanks to the determination of amateur historian Chris McColl.

For him it is the culmination of a fascination stretching back to his childhood in the village, peering at the faceless names inscribed on the War Memorial while waiting for the school bus.

Five years of painstaking research has allowed him to breathe life back into the forgotten heroes named on the war memorial and trace their final steps - from deserts surrounding Baghdad to the icy depths off Orkney.

Mr McColl has uncovered the stories and over 20 photographs of about 50 WWI soldiers from the village - starting each time with nothing more than a name on the memorial.

He discovered that Sharpe and Yaxley died in 1919 and 1920 respectively and were buried in unmarked graves at St Mary's.

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More research uncovered their death certificates, both of which mentioned they died as result of war injuries - which was enough for him to convince the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Ministry of Defence to consider providing two headstones.

He said: “It is poignant and fitting that they should be remembered at this time. It is quite a rare feat for the MoD to put up a new headstone, never mind two.

“My mother recounted a story of how her father had been much upset as a young lad when his boyhood friend was called off the fields in Walsingham and taken off to fight in war.

“Tracing his details and sad loss led to tracing all the other names on both village war memorials. If a photograph, his service details and grave could be found then why not all the others?

“Many left the village never to return. They lie buried not only in North France and Belgium, but in far places like India, Egypt and Palestine.

“Two were to die when HMS Edward was sunk off the Dardenelles in 1915 - as were many Norfolk lads who transferred to the Essex regiment to see action.

“One chap Arthur Woodcock left for Australia shortly before the war only to join up and serve in the Australian Camel Corps before dying of blood poisoning after being shot serving in Egypt.”

The MoD has agreed to provide a headstone for Sharpe, provided there are no other markers on his grave, and is still considering the case for Yaxley.

Mr McColl expects it will take another 18 months to get the headstones put in place and wants to trace relatives of both men.

Sharpe served in the 242nd Artisan Works Company, Royal Engineers and is believed to have been born in Burnham Sutton in 1879. Yaxley served in the 7th Battalion Border Regiment and was born in Knight's Street, Little Walsingham, in 1884.

* Anyone with information about the two soldiers should e-mail Mr McColl at mrjug2@hotmail.com. To find out more about the history of Walsingham visit the website www.walsingham-memories.co.uk