THE LOST stories behind the names etched into a town’s war memorials have been unearthed.

John Duffell of Clover Leas, has spent 12 years digging through archives and newspapers to discover more about the lives and deaths of 150 Epping servicemen who died in the First and Second World Wars.

The 57-year-old now hopes to display the fruits of his labour in the district council's Civic Offices in the run-up to November 11

He was inspired to take on the project when, as secretary of the town's Royal British Legion branch, he was tasked with organising its Remembrance Day parade and presented with a list of fallen servicemen.

"They were just names, nobody seemed to know anything about them,” he said.

"They gave their lives for their country. It deserves remembering, as it does today with our soldiers in Afghanistan."

Much of Mr Duffell's work involved hunting through editions of the Guardian's predecessor, the West Essex Gazette.

"They had no idea what they'd let themselves in for. Half of them hadn't even left Epping before,” he said.

"It seemed a great adventure - but it didn't turn out like that."

Among the tragic stories unearthed are those of brothers Albert and Joseph Gould, of Ivy Chimneys, who enlisted into different regiments – but both lost their lives in action on the same day in May 1917.

The first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 claimed the lives of both Frank Cox, of Lindsey Street, and West Essex Gazette writer Percy Whiting, of the High Street.

The youngest to die was 15-year-old deck boy Horace Barker, drowned in January 1918 when his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine.

"He was the youngest one of the lot. He sort of stuck in my mind," said Mr Duffell.

Among the fallen servicemen are familiar names – Gerald Church of Church’s Butchers, David Poulton of DC Poulton’s Funeral Director and Sidney Pretlove of Pretlove’s Removals.

Of the Second World War losses, Mr Duffell was most touched by the story of 23-year-old Alf Turner, of Bury Road, and his friend Leslie Hammond, 22.

The pair were school friends, joined Epping Fire Brigade together and signed up to the Royal Army Service Corps together in 1939. They were both killed by a shell after the retreat to Dunkirk in June 1940.

Mr Duffell intends to provide Epping's schools and library with copies of the information and pictures he has collected.

"There are no veterans left now. The last died last year," he said.

"This brings it home. People can relate to it, because these people lived in their houses and in their streets.”

Anyone who feels they can add more information can call Mr Duffell on 01992 613162.

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