The tents which first housed the German PoWs, surrounded by fences, on Orford Ness 1917
(© Hammond Collection)
A camp was set up on Orford Ness for German prisoners of war, figures of 600, 800 and even 1,000 prisoners are mentioned in various sources, greatly outnumbering the British personnel on the Ness. They were housed in huts and put to work on airfield maintenance and the all-important sea defences. The guards were from the London Scottish Regiment, and their commandant was a Captain Duncan.
We have very little information about the camp, but the Burial Register of St Bartholomew's church records that thirteen Germans were buried in the churchyard on 21, 26 and 29 November 1918, their names carefully listed by the Revd Hugh Tudor, the rector. At the foot of the page he put the note: 'The above Germans, prisoners of war, died in the great epidemic of Influenza which spread through the world in the year 1918.' In the 1960s the bodies were transferred to the German war cemetery at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.
Ninety six years later in September 2014, a gravemarker/cross with the name of Josef Obert was found in Orford Church's sexton's shed.
Hier ruht in Gott
P.O.W. Josef Obert
Here rests in God
P.O.W. Josef Obert
C. No. 19606
Rest in peace
Josef was born on the 27th July 1891 in Aschaffenburg to Anna Obert, a seamstress, who was unmarried at the time. The birth certificate is in two parts. The first records his name, his date of birth in July 1891 and his mother’s name. In September 1891 the Birth Certificate was updated and the Court in Aschaffenburg recorded that Joseph Paulus acknowledged paternity. Josef was named after him.
Anna also had an older daughter who was born in February 1886. In 1895 the children’s mother married a master tailor, Konrad Hennrich. They had four children, all registered in Ascaffenburg.
Prior to enlisting in 1913, Josef was recorded as working as a printer. He joined the 8th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment based in Metz in France on 1st October 1913 aged twenty-two. Between 16th November and 12th December 1915 he was treated for Rheumatic Fever in Lazarette in Germansheim. On the 1st June 1916 he was transferred to the 4th Bavarian Regiment. During 1916-17 he was involved in the campaign against France, England and Russia, including in September 1916 in Verdun.
Records also show that he took part in the Somme offensive in November 1916, he was recorded as missing in combat near Arras in France on the 9th April 1917. He turns up again as a POW on Orford Ness, dying of influenza on the 18th November 1918 aged twenty-seven. According to the Orford Church Burials Register, he was buried in the churchyard in November 1918 with thirteen other PoWs who also died of influenza. He was re-interred in Cannock Chase during the 1960s.
At the time of enlisting in 1913, Josef was single and he seems to have remained so with no descendants.
Note: An influenza pandemic swept across the world in 1918 killing about 50 million people, many more than the total military casualties of the four years of the War.
(Refs:St Bartholomew's church, Orford Burials Register 1853-1954, Suffolk Record Office