As the country remembers the sacrifices that millions made during the First World War, the Croydon Guardian honours 26 heroes who have lain in an unmarked grave, forgotten for 91 years.

These soldiers fought during the four-year conflict and died in Cane Hill asylum after losing their sanity in the trenches.

The Croydon Guardian has been campaigning to have their names added to the Debt of Honour, an international tribute to the men who died during or as a direct result of the war.

To date six of the 26 men have been put before the Ministry of Defence for inclusion on the Roll, managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

Volunteers Chris Harley and Melvyn Pack from the Great War Forum and In From The Cold websites are going through our list to find the discharge papers, pension records and death certificates of our 26 men to put before the MoD.

In some cases this is very difficult, as many military documents from the First World War were destroyed in the blitz.

Local historian Adrian Falks uncovered the scandal of our forgotten heroes two months ago. He laid a wreath of poppies on the grave in honour of the men on Remembrance Day.

He said: “This is the first time in 90 years these men have been remembered.

"It is chastening to think that unlike the other 1.7m British war dead, whose memory is honoured by the church and state every Armistice Day, the names of these men have not been remembered or commemorated since they were interred.”

It is not clear why the men were left off the honour roll; the CWGC insisted it does not have a policy to deliberately exclude mentally ill soldiers from the Debt of Honour. There has also been a suggestion Cane Hill hospital was to blame for not informing the relevant authorities.

More than 40 poverty-stricken soldiers suffering from psychiatric problems were admitted to Cane Hill during the First World War.

Hospital records show many of the soldiers died within months.

They were buried penniless in the Cane Hill cemetery in Portnalls Road but received full military funerals and were buried separately from other asylum patients.

Once buried, they lay forgotten and their names were not included on the Debt of Honour.

In 1981 the Portnalls Road cemetery was cleared to make way for a housing development.

During the careful exhumation of more than 3,000 bodies, no distinction was made between the soldiers’ remains and those of ordinary patients.

They were moved to Croydon Cemetery where they were cremated and their ashes scattered over Location 1,000 within the Garden of Remembrance.

Hero remembered

Alexander McKenzie served with the Northumberland Fusiliers and was discharged on medical gounds in August 1917.

He died at Cane Hill little more than six months later in March 1918. Ironically a mere month after his perfunctory burial in Cane Hill, Alexander's younger brother won the Victoria Cross for his part in the Zeebruge raid in April 1918.

Sue McKenzie, from Thornton Heath, was amazed to discover her grandfather on our list of soldiers.

Alexander McKenzie was in his late 30s when he fought in the war alongside one of his sons and his brothers.

All of his sons would go on to fight in the Second World War, including Mrs McKenzie’s father John. His name does not appear on the Debt of Honour.

She said: “My dad was eight when his father died, but although he was very young, he had memories of his father and he used to talk about him.

Mrs McKenzie said the family was very ashamed of having her grandfather in a lunatic asylum but unlike other families, they did not abandon him.

Her grandmother would often walk and hitchhike from Kennington to the Coulsdon Asylum to visit her husband before his death.

Before his brief life as a soldier, Alexander worked as a photographer out of a studio just off Charing Cross Road.

The family was quite poor and when the father-of-seven died, he left his family in dire straits. Some of the younger children spent a short amount of time in a children’s poor house in West Norwood.

Mrs McKenzie said: “When I saw my grandfather’s name on your list, I could not believe it.

“I think it is lovely after all these years someone has thought of him and all those soldiers. Society’s attitudes have changed as well and something can be done to bring closure to the families of those men.

“It did not have a huge effect on me because I was too removed but I could see the effect my grandfather’s death had on dad and his whole family.”

“I think they should be commemorated for their sacrifices and their contribution.”

Backing the campaign

The British Legion backed our campaign.

In a letter to the newspaper, its Norbury branch wrote:“These people too were heroes. The only difference between those who survived, the thousands who died and the poor souls who broke down mentally and were classed as mad, because of the constant strain and horrors they faced, was the fact that instead of losing their lives, they lost their sanity.

As well as losing their minds, they lost their homes, loved ones and friends. They risked just as much but lost more than most who were lucky enough to live through their ordeals.”

George Lammie’s great-nephew Bill Harris, 56, was astonished to learn his grandmother’s brother had ended his days in the Cane Hill lunatic asylum.

He said: “I do feel that they deserve to be recognised, I think its disgraceful that they are not on the honour roll.”

Beryl Perman, the granddaughter of Walter Sutton, said: “I am delighted there is interest in Walter (my grandfather) whom I never met but who was always shrouded in mystery whenever I asked about him.

“When I researched his background and discovered that he had gone to war twice and ended his life in an asylum (obviously shell shocked), I was moved to tears and so very proud of him.

"My dad, Percy, who also volunteered to fight in the Second World War, would also have been so proud."

Steve Gullick wrote on the Great War Forum: “These men suffered, of that there can be little doubt, apart from the trauma that brought on their condition in the first place, I would imagine a Victorian lunatic asylum was not a pleasant place to spend your last days and the stigma that the relatives had must have been pretty awful.

"Of course these men should be commemorated, the fact that they are dead and may well have no living relatives is completely irrelevant. These men gave all they had for us.”

Seadog wrote: “These men are as much casualties of war as any other member of the services. They deserve our respect and remembrance, not to do so would be to break faith with all those who suffered both physically and mentally for us.”

Commenting on the Croydon Guardian website Medway Girl wrote: “Excellent idea by the Croydon G.

“Remembering those who gave their lives for our wonderful nation and ended their days in the Cane Hill institution only to be forgotten about by the authorities as if they did not exist is awful...

please support this campaign.”

Linda Crouch, who is related to Nelson Giles, read about our campaign on the internet.

She said: “I think it is very important to honour the brave soldiers who died for us and they should certainly be recognised by the War Graves commission.

"Nelson Giles was a brother of my great grandfather Patrick James Giles who served in the Boer War and First World War.

“He was fortunate enough to survive a gas attack and was invalided out and lived to the ripe old age of 89.”

• What do you think? Let us know by email here, phone the newsdesk on 020 8330 9555 or leave a comment below.