Vicar's quest to trace lost war hero

It is the grave of a fallen Norfolk war hero. Yet the headstone marking the final resting place of “Skipper” Ernest Robert Browne was all but forgotten, broken and shrouded with weeds.

It is the grave of a fallen Norfolk war hero. Yet the headstone marking the final resting place of “Skipper” Ernest Robert Browne was all but forgotten, broken and shrouded with weeds.

Browne's grave was rediscovered by the Rev Damon Rogers when 3ft of weed was cleared from the churchyard at Cantley.

Now the parish priest is appealing for help in uncovering Browne's story and tracing his family - having searched through parish rolls for clues.

Browne was a Royal Navy reservist who won the distinguished service cross in 1918 for his part in the battle against German submarines. He died on April 7, 1919.

Mr Rogers said: “He was a Royal Navy reservist who probably served on one of the converted trawlers that patrolled the sea off Yarmouth hunting submarines.”

According to the parish roll, Browne served on HMS Simlax and later on HM Drifter Cormoma.

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“I was looking for war graves to show the children from Cantley Parish School for their annual remembrance service when I came across it,” Mr Rogers added.

“The kids see what is going on in Iraq and they appreciate that fact of conflict, but they need to understand remembrance too.

“I think children get a bit desensitised by the television pictures. It is important that they understand that the people dying have families.

“If we can find this man's family and his story they will see that it is not something remote. They have got to have an understanding of the human cost to understand the futility of it all.”

And he added: “It seems to me that if we let things like this go we lose some of our heritage and an important link with the past.”

He had hoped to have the headstone repaired by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but they told him that if the name was still legible they did not have responsibility for it.

And the grave, which had a large stone cross that now lies broken on the ground, is also not one of the standard white graves that the commission issued to servicemen - rather a more elaborate memorial paid for by Browne's family.

He said: “I am sure there are a lot of organisations and charities that would like to see it repaired but the church has no funds for this kind of thing, and I imagine it will cost hundreds rather then tens of pounds to do.”

Browne's parents, George and Elizabeth, are buried next to him. It is known he had four siblings - George and Beatrice who were born at Ranworth, and Herbert and Percy from Cantley.

Ernest was born at Cantley where he married Harriet, who lived at Inglehurst, Church Road, Cantley, after his death.

His niece, Eva Edith Browne, was baptised at Cantley Church in 1914.

“She will be 93 if she is alive,” said Mr Rogers.