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Orford: Wooden cross symbolises island victims of War’s deadliest killer

10:00 01 September 2014

A wooden cross will go on display in Orford as a reminder of the German prisoners of war who died of influenza on the Ness

A wooden cross will go on display in Orford as a reminder of the German prisoners of war who died of influenza on the Ness

Archant

An unusual object will be among those on display when a village commemorates its part in the First World War later this month.

A simple wooden cross bearing the name Josef Obert – set to go on show in Orford, near Woodbridge – will represent the casualties of a disease that claimed lives on all sides.

During the war, hundreds of German prisoners were put to work on airfield maintenance and sea defences on Orford Ness. They outnumbered British personnel on the island, but few records remain of their imprisonment – and less evidence exists of those who died in the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.

The register at St Bartholomew’s Church indicates that 13 Germans were buried in the churchyard over three days in November 1918. In the 1960s, the bodies were transferred to the German war cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.

Of the volunteers who have been researching the village’s role during the war for a three-day Town Hall exhibition on September 12, 13 and 14, Orford Museum’s Jane Allen has collected a number of exhibits relating to the island, including cuttings declaring that four prisoners escaped but were soon recaptured.

When airman Oliver Wills arrived at Orford Ness in 1917, he wrote to his father that 80% of the island was made up of Germans, adding: “It sounds amazingly dangerous but I suppose it’s alright. The Huns haven’t taken us prisoners yet, but in the event of a Hun naval landing things might become rather priceless.”

Among other items on display for the commemoration, which also includes a community choir performance and enactments by actors and local children, will be a moving photograph of soldier Samuel Noy’s mother at his grave in France.

There will also be details of the 87 men from Orford, Sudbourne, Iken, Chillesford, Butley, Capel, Wantisden and Boyton named on the village war memorials.

The free event is open from 10.30am-5pm each day.

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