A WEARSIDER’S Prisoner of War grave has finally been marked thanks to a historian’s 29-year campaign.
Trooper Henry Alexander Thomson was captured in May 1940 during the Battle of Dunkirk and taken to the Stalag VIIIB Lambsdorf camp in Poland.
From there, he was sent to a satellite camp and put to work in the forest alongside Lance Corporal Tommy Saunders, from County Durham.
The pair died in 1944 when they were shot by their guard in an argument over their quota.
A third solider in their group, fellow Sunderland man Private William Foster of the Durham Light Infantry, escaped injury after knocking away the gun.
Residents in the small village of Popielow had always known the two graves in their cemetery belonged to foreigners and helped in the upkeep of the resting places.
But now after research by L/Cpl Saunders’s nephew Tom Hutchinson, they each have two white headstones to mark their final spot.
History author Tom, 71, from Birtley, used documents – including affidavits signed by the witnesses to the shooting and papers from the International Red Cross – to prove the graves belonged to the soldiers.
As part of his research, he found Trooper Thomson had lived in Yorke Street North, Monkwearmouth, and was married to Gladys, who gave birth to their son six months before he was captured.
Gladys later went to live in London.
Tom also found Pte Foster had lived in Neale Street, Fulwell, and was being cared for in Cherry Knowle Hospital when he signed his witness statement in May 1945.
He had been in hospital in Lamsdorf POW Camp immediately before it was evacuated west as the Russians advanced into Germany from the east.
Tom was spurred into tracking down the details of the deaths and fought for the headstones after the death of his grandmother, with his own mother Nora now 91.
Fellow historian John Dixon also researched the grave of Trooper Thomson.
Tom, Nora and other members of the family travelled alongside members of Pte Thomson’s relatives for a dedication service earlier this month, with the event, which included prayers and the last post, well attended by villagers.
Tom, whose search took him to Kew and Geneva as well as the 1,180-mile trip to Poland ahead of the ceremony, was also helped by residents as they pieced together confirmation of who the graves belonged to and gained approval from the War Graves Commission.
He said: “The work has been quite hard, and the results have been emotional. It was one of those situations that if I didn’t do it, nobody would.”