Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 11:16 UK

War grave officially identified

Reginald Earnshaw's grave
A wooden cross has been temporarily erected at Reginald Earnshaw's grave

One of the youngest British men to be killed while serving his country in World War II is to be honoured on the 68th anniversary of his death.

Records show Reginald Earnshaw, who is buried in Edinburgh, was aged about 15 when he died aboard the merchant ship SS North Devon on 6 July 1941.

But it is thought the boy may have lied about his age and could have been as young as 14 when he was killed.

A stone is to be erected at his grave in Edinburgh's Comely Bank Cemetery.

The location of Mr Earnshaw's grave was never reported to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission or marked with a headstone until recently, when a simple wooden cross was erected as a temporary marker.

But that is set to change in less than a fortnight's time, when the grave will have a granite headstone erected by the commission.

The move comes thanks to the efforts of a small group of campaigners, one of whom served alongside Mr Earnshaw on the SS North Devon.

Alf Tubbs
Alf Tubbs was a machine gunner when Reginald Earnshaw died

Alf Tubbs, now 86, from Swansea, was an 18-year-old machine gunner on the ship when it was bombed by German aircraft heading to Tyneside.

After firing at the attacking planes, his thoughts turned to his young friend.

The gunner rushed to the engine room to try to find Mr Earnshaw but was beaten back by the steam.

Mr Earnshaw was one of six people who died that night.

Decades later Mr Tubbs decided to find out what happened to his friend and he got in touch with various people via an appeal.

It has since emerged that Mr Earnshaw was born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, but his last known address was in Edinburgh.

His final resting place at Comely Bank is close to where he lived in the Granton area of the city.

There are no known living relatives but the commission is appealing for any family members to get in touch.

Alf Tubbs
Mr Tubbs said it was important to him that a headstone was erected

Mr Tubbs said he is glad his friend's grave is soon to be identified properly.

"The most important thing to me is that he gets a fitting headstone," he said.

"I'm glad that after all these years, the sacrifice of such a young man, my pal, will be properly marked."

The commission, which is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of members of the Commonwealth forces killed during both world wars, is investigating Mr Earnshaw's case to try to establish his age.

His death certificate said his date of birth was February 5 1926, but those who have looked into the matter can find no record of Reginald Earnshaw's birth in Dewsbury on that date.

They did however find a Reginald Earnshaw born exactly one year later.

If Mr Earnshaw did lie about his age then he is the youngest British man to die serving his country during the WWII - at 14 years and 152 days.

The youngest serviceman recorded at the moment is Raymond Steeds, another merchant seaman who died aged 14 years and 207 days.

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