How did Norfolk man end up buried in Iceland?

Maureen Spinks next to the grave of her great-uncle, Great Yarmouth man Henry Coe, who was buried in Iceland in 1926.

Maureen Spinks next to the grave of her great-uncle, Great Yarmouth man Henry Coe, who was buried in Iceland in 1926. - Credit: Submitted

A visit to the undertaker is not a normal destination while on holiday to see the Northern Lights - but that is where one Norfolk woman found herself in Iceland.

When Maureen Spinks, who grew up in Bradwell, told her family of her travel plans, her sister asked if she was going to visit their great-uncle's grave.

"His name was Henry Edwin Coe," Ms Spinks says. "He was a fisherman and had died in Icelandic waters, so I had thought he was buried at sea.

"But it turned out he had been buried in Reykjavik in 1926."

Before leaving, Ms Spinks searched the internet for information on the island's graveyards and found out that her great-uncle was buried in Hóllvagadur Cemetery, Row E, Plot 24. 


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After arriving, and searching the graveyard with her husband, they found the grave but were disappointed to find it was an unmarked plot.

"It seemed such a shame that Harry’s last resting-place so far from home was not marked, so I thought 'wouldn’t it be lovely if we could belatedly mark his passing?'.

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"So this is how we visited an undertaker while on holiday," says Ms Spinks.

That was in 2013.

The Iceland cross marking a Great Yarmouth man's death

The Iceland cross marking a Great Yarmouth man's death - Credit: Angela Briggs

Four years later, another Norfolk woman was on holiday in Iceland when she spotted the cross and the name. 

She took a photo and sent it to this newspaper, thinking that if any family members saw the picture, some light might be shed on how a man from Great Yarmouth ended up buried in Iceland.

Ms Spinks, who left Norfolk in her teens, said she only stumbled across the picture earlier this month - but could now fill in the gaps in the story.

Her great-uncle, who was also know as Harry, was born in 1896 at Row 45 in Great Yarmouth.

He became a fisherman and later enrolled with the Royal Naval Reserves, serving during the First World War and awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

In October 1926, while working on a trawler in Icelandic waters, he was killed in an accident.

According to the Register of Deceased Seamen, the cause of death was: "killed by fish-tackle block breaking from band on mast".

Three days later, his body was buried in that Reykjavik cemetery, where, for 86 years, it would lay unmarked and unknown.

"But it's nice now to think he is still remembered in a foreign place," said Ms Spinks.

  








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