THE family of a young soldier who was killed in battle during World War 2 are hoping to finally have his misspelt name changed on his local war memorial after a 72 year battle.

Sergeant James Herkes had just turned 22 when he died in a bombing raid on May 21, 1944.

He had been married to his wife Agnes for less than 100 days when the wireless operator's plane headed to Duisberg in Germany as one of 21 bombers sent on the run.

His plane tragically was the only one which did not make it back.

The heartbreaking loss was compounded for his family when his name was carved on Prestonpans War memorial with his surname wrongly spelled as "Harkes".

His nephew George recalled how James' mother Margaret refused to acknowledge the carving in defiance at the mis-spelling telling anyone who raised it "that's not my laddie on there".

A former Preston Lodge High School pupil, Sgt Herkes was born in Cockenzie but grew up in Prestonpans. His name is spelt correctly on the war memorial at the school itself.

He was the second eldest of eight children born to parents George, a coal miner and Margaret.

When his plane failed to return following the fateful bombing his wife Agnes and their family faced a long wait until after the war ended to discover whether the crew, including James, had been killed or were instead in a prisoner of war camp.

It was several months after the end of the war before the RAF was able to establish that his Lancaster had been shot down about 20 miles north of Antwerp, as it returned from the road, with only two survivors who were captured. Sadly James was not one of them and died along with four of his comrades.

He was buried in a cemetery near the crash site.

Over the decades the family made a number of efforts to have the error corrected but were repeatedly rebuffed.

However the decision to offer funding to communities who would like to refurbish or repair war memorials in the community as part of the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the First World War has given them a chance to finally fix the mistake.

Prestonpans Community Council applied for a grant to restore the famous William Birnie Rhind sculpture which sits on top of the town's war memorial and have asked the stonemasons working on the project to correct the spelling to give his family peace of mind after all the years.

The War Memorial Trust, which has to give permission for any changes to names requires a tough list of criteria before it will give the go ahead.

It includes two forms of supporting information that confirms that the name recorded is incorrectly spelt, such as military records, copies of corresponding formal documentation such as birth/marriage/death certificates and proof the recorded name on the memorial does not relate to another person or that person exists and could have a right to be on the memorial.

DJ Johnston-Smith, Prestonpans community councillor, said Sgt Herkes had a sister and brother still alive who had tried with other family members to have the name changed in the past without success.

He said: "We have secured the funding to have it done as part of the work going on at the war memorial. It will give the family some long-overdue closure of this troubling issue."

The community council has set up a website to tell the stories of the men commemorated on the town's war memorial and is keen to hear from other families and those who would like to share memories of those named.

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