New home for POW cross found in shed

Guy Marshall found a wooden cross in St Bartholomew's Church shed in Orford last year. With Rev Davi

Guy Marshall found a wooden cross in St Bartholomew's Church shed in Orford last year. With Rev David Murdoch's blessing, it was placed in the church at a memorial for WWI prisoner of war Josef Obert. - Credit: Su Anderson

A wooden cross representing the casualties of a disease that took no sides in the First World War has gone on display in a Suffolk church.

Josef Obert’s grave marker was found in the sexton’s shed at St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, while the village was researching its involvement in the war for a centenary project last year.

Hundreds of German prisoners were put to work on airfield maintenance and sea defences on Orford Ness.

Few records remain of their imprisonment, and less evidence exists of those who died in the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.

The burial register of St Bartholomew’s records 13 Germans interred on November 21, 26 and 29 of 1918 – their names listed by the rector, Rev Hugh Tudor.

Further research found that Josef Obert, who was born on July 27, 1891, and died on November 18, 1918, worked as a printer before enlisting with the 8th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment in 1913, aged 22.

Between November 16 and December 12, 1915, he was treated for rheumatic fever in Germersheim.

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After being transferred to the 4th Bavarian Regiment, he was involved in the campaign against France, England and Russia, including the Somme offensive in November 1916.

Listed as missing in combat near Arras on April 9, 1917, he turns up again as a prisoner on Orford Ness, dying of influenza aged 27.

He was reinterred in Cannock Chase German war cemetery during the 1960s.

He was single at the time of enlisting, and is believed to have no descendants.

Much of the research was carried out by the sister of Orford Museum’s assistant curator Maggi Livingstone, who lives in Germany and is fluent in the language.

The parochial church council gave permission for the cross to be installed on a temporary basis.

Conservation of the cross, and its installation costs, were covered by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

During a short ceremony, Rev David Murdoch said prayers with church warden, Guy Marshall, who found the cross in sexton’s shed.

A local German speaker read the translated last verse of the hymn Abide with Me.

Jennifer Hall, Orford Museum curator, said: “Our First World War project has basically finished with this last bit of activity, and has been a great success.

“We have, with the help of a lot of people locally and further afield, collected an amazing new body of research, made new links with lots of new people and raised the profile of the museum among the locals who saw their relatives mentioned in the exhibition as part of those who had fallen and those who returned.”