A private developer has allowed a graveyard containing the remains of First World War soldiers to become overgrown and neglected.

The desolate cemetery, hidden on the edge of a farmer’s field in Coulsdon, was attached to Netherne asylum and contains the remains of soldiers who fought on the frontlines.

In 1995, the hospital was refurbished into luxury flats by developer MJ Gleeson and the cemetery has been overrun by weeds.

Burrowing badgers have dislodged some of the remains and bone fragments can be found among the 5ft nettles on the site.

The graveyard was discovered by history enthusiast Adrian Falks, who was instrumental in unearthing the forgotten soldiers buried at the neighbouring Cane Hill asylum.

Last year the Croydon Guardian campaigned to get the names of 26 soldiers who had died at Cane Hill asylum added to the Debt of Honour, an international tribute to the men who died as a direct result of the war.

There are about 1,350 people buried at Netherne, including patients, soldiers and young children who may still have relatives living in the borough.

Scott Chamberlin, from MJ Gleeson, said: “We have left the cemetery well alone. We are just leaving it to let the wildlife take it over.

“We have never been approached by people who have family members buried there.”

Mr Falks said the condition of the cemetery was “shocking”.

He said: “Anybody who joins the service and pledges to serve the monarch to the death should never suffer such an indignity in death.

“All but one of the children buried at Netherne had fathers who were fighting in the First World War. It seems disgraceful their fathers were out fighting for British values and we have allowed the graves of their children to fall into such a state.”

The asylum hospital treated soldiers and civilians injured in the wars to ease the burden on hospitals, which might explain why children are buried in the cemetery.

Lost lives

Although the names of the servicemen remain hidden in closed records, Mr Falks has uncovered details about two soldiers who died in the asylum.

Gunner William James Carpenter, joined the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1914 to escape a squalid life. However, he was unable to cope with the rigours of army life and often went missing from his base which he was constantly disciplined for. He deserted just before he was due to be shipped to France in August, 1915.

For the past 90 years, his whereabouts have remained a mystery. Army records show he stormed out of his Peckham home in Tilson Road after an argument with his wife Anne. She told Army personnel and the police she had no idea where her husband had gone. Soon after he left, she reverted to her maiden name. The couple had no children.

Mr Falks discovered William Carpenter ended his days alone in Netherne asylum. He now lies forgotten in an overgrown grave.

His body would have lain close to that of a German PoW Hermann Albert Schmid. It is unknown how he came to be in the country but he may have been working as a batman for a German officer. Like many soldiers at the time, he contracted syphilis and was treated at Netherne after being driven mad by the disease. He died in 1917.

In 1955, the German War Graves Commission wrote to the asylum requesting his body be exhumed and moved to its central military cemetery in Staffordshire. In the meantime they asked his grave be given special attention and taken care of.

His body was exhumed in 1962 and can now be found in Block 17, Grave 51 of Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery.

Children buried at the asylum

Jean Barboni, eight, died on October 21, 1915, of tuberculosis. His father was Edgard Barboni; an officer in the French army based in Carshalton Beeches and a psychiatrist probably employed at Netherne.

• Leslie Thomas Jackman, 11, died December 11, 1917. His father was a serving soldier.

• William Albert Simmonds, 15, died October 15, 1917. His father was probably killed during the Battle of Arras, but news may not have reached hospital.

• Sidney Peters, five, died October 3, 1915. His father, a soldier, worked as a labourer.

• Jessica Davis, 11, died February 20, 1915, of TB. Her father, from Ham, was a soldier although it is uncertain whether he survived the war.

• William John Newland, 15. Died February 18, 1918, of pulmonary tuberculosis. Interred February 25, 1918. An orphan, transferred from Union Workhouse Infirmary, Epsom (no next-of-kin.) •

Betty Trotman, seven, died May 31, 1929, after a five-month stay in the hospital. Her parents may have worked there.