Memorial stone for Cambridge student laid hidden in undergrowth for 80 years

Simon Bywater, Julie Morgan, 

Left to Right: Cambridgeshire County Councillor Simon Bywater, Julie Morgan a Sawtry Church Historian, Ron Thompson who helped to clear the Memorial and and Ex Chairman of the History Society, Alan Bottell. - Credit: Archant

A forgotten memorial discovered on the slip road between Alconbury and Sawtry has been uncovered, thanks to the efforts of local people.  

The headstone sits along the service road and the site is close to the Redwings service station.

The inscription reads "GJM 6th Dec 1934" and refers to Gerardus Johannes Mulder, a 20-year-old Belgian student who died at the spot.

Gerardus Johannes Mulder's headstone has been uncovered. 

Gerardus Johannes Mulder's headstone has been uncovered. - Credit: Archant

The gravestone was first spotted by Julie Morgan, a Sawtry historian, and she has worked to discover its history and clean it up.

Julie said: “I had done some research on Gerardus Johannes Mulder. 

“I then started to dig into his past and saw that he attended Trinity School and I contacted them, who have been fantastic with helping me with my research.  They sent me everything in their archives, I was also able to uncover photos of him which I never thought I would get a hold of.  I would really like to get in touch with his family, as we are hoping to get in contact with the next of kin.” 

Cambridgeshire County Councillor Simon Bywater volunteered to help Julie to clear the site and uncover the gravestone.

Gerardus Johannes Mulder died in 1934 and his memorial has been uncovered. 

Gerardus Johannes Mulder died in 1934 and his memorial has been uncovered. - Credit: Archant

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Councillor Bywater said: “We first of all tried to find out who the land owner was. 

“I am an investigator by profession and I like to do these sort of things really.  

“We made some enquires, because of the proximity to the highway and let's not forget back in the day in the 1930s this was a completely different area. It was a very quiet unlit road, so we were trying to find out who actually owned this land.  

The memorial is situated on the road between Alconbury and Sawtry.

The memorial is situated on the road between Alconbury and Sawtry. - Credit: Archant

“We initially thought this land belonged to Highways England but then we started to making some enquiries with local land owners.  

“We came across a local farmer who was really helpful and ultimately gave us the help to uncover it.  The vegetation here is about 12 foot thick and there was a significant amount of trees that had grown up around it.  

Slip road between Alconbury and Sawtry 

Slip road between Alconbury and Sawtry - Credit: Archant

“With the farmer's help and the Sawtry History Society, we managed to uncover it.  It is a significant memorial and we are trying to track down his next of kin and hope we may be able to trace them.” 

Julie says she has been thankful for Simon's help and members of the Sawtry History Society team, former chairman Alan Bottell and Ron Thompson who helped to clear the memorial.

Julie said: "This memorial stone has been hidden for so many years and I wanted to uncover it.  I was passionate for people to be aware that it was here and it is a bit difficult to see from the road. It’s taken a couple of years to uncover this to the delays with the pandemic lockdown. 

“We needed to find out if it was county council land or a farmers and then we found out.  Simon cut back the original overgrown back for me and my friend Alan has been helping me out and my partner. We plan to actually pull back more of the overgrowth later on.” 

This is what happened in 1934

Gerardus Johannes Mulder was a student at Trinity College in Cambridge, and on the night of his death, December 6, 1934, he was driving a two-seater red MG sports car along Gypsy Hill, near Alconbury.

As he approached an incline in the road, he encountered a stationary lorry, which had broken down on the side of the road.

He took evasive action and drove round the lorry, but over compensated too far to the right and hit the grass verge. He lost control of the car and hit a telegraph pole. Gerardus was thrown clear of the car, but sustained a broken neck, which proved fatal and he died at the scene.

His body was taken to the nearby Royal Oak pub and the inquest was also at the pub a week later. Those present were: Major SG Cook, of the Royal Oak, Messrs Harry Parker Kelly (foreman) Robert Furnis, John Herbert Newton, Sam Parker, Charles Robert Scotney, Percy John Slater and Percy James Smith. The body was examined by Dr JR Garood.

Dr William Mulder identified the body as that of his son.

The lorry was owned by James Muirhead of Falkirk, Scotland, and the driver was William Lynch who said the car passed him at a "fairly fast speed", but he did not see the accident.

A second driver, travelling north, said the car swerved to avoid the lorry and appeared to strike the grass verge and the car somersaulted and crashed into the telegraph pole.

The Peterborough Advertiser report on December 7, 1934, read: "Police constable Afford of Sawtry was on his round and was at Stilton. Hastening to the spot, he found the victim beyond aid and the body was recovered to the Royal Oak."

PC Afford identified the victim from his driving licence and passport.