From Berkhamsted to Budapest: Army general’s story is unearthed

A family history mystery covering 1,000 miles and spanning four generations has been solved thanks to an innovative church project.

Monday, 22nd June 2015, 1:00 pm
Major-General Alexander Sutton CMG DSO: an army doctor

Simon Armstrong, 63, travelled to Berkhamsted from his home in Budapest, Hungary to research his family tree. When he visited St Peter’s on the High Street he met James Moir, who leads the Rectory Lane Cemetery (RLC) Project.

Mr Moir showed him the resting place of his great-grandfather Major-General Alexander Sutton in Rectory Lane Cemetery, behind the Rex Cinema in the town.

Mr Armstrong, who works as a freelance consultant on economic development in Hungary, said: “I knew literally nothing about my ancestors until a few years ago when I decided to research my family tree. Discovering family was like bringing them back to life: they weren’t forgotten.

From left, Julia Watts, James Moir and Elaine Mercer with the 'Sutton grave' in Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

“It was in that spirit that I started a pilgrimage to visit as many of my great and great-great grandparents as I could.

“I visited the graveyard and was shocked by the state of it.”

Following his visit, Mr Armstrong agreed to pay for the maintenance of his ancestors’ gravestones.

His great-grandfather, Alexander Arthur Sutton (1861-1941) served in India, Africa and the First World War.

In the 1911 census Alexander, his first wife Annie and their four children were listed as residing in Cowper Road.

Only a year later, Alexander was serving in West Africa when Annie died unexpectedly of a chill, aged just 48.

Both Mr Armstrong’s great-uncle William Henry (1890 – 1953) and his first wife Madeleine (1896-1936) were also laid to rest in the cemetery.

Known as Bill, William became a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps the First World War and was awarded an OBE in the Second, having risen to the rank of colonel.

Despite travelling widely, both men retained their roots and were buried in Rectory Lane with their first wives.

The project had been in full swing since January last year and is in the process of applying for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £500,000 to regenerate the neglected churchyard.

The plan is to create an online database recording who is buried there, making it easier for people to track down their relatives.

Project leader Mr Moir, who is part of the Friends of St Peter’s group, said: “The Friends, with the help of the Herts Family History Society, charted the location of many graves over the last 18 months.

“We are currently raising funds for an online system available to all so that finding one’s ancestors is not a matter of serendipity.”