A CROSS could be raised in memory of nearly 500 soldiers buried under a Colchester church.

The site of St John’s Orthodox Church, in Military Road, was used as a burial ground by the Army before the former Garrison Church was built there in 1856.

The church has applied to Colchester Council for planning permission to put up a three-metre high cross in memory of the soldiers, who were buried in the early 19th century.

The memorial would be a three-bar cross in the Orthodox style, with the inscription: “In memory of the soldiers here laid to rest and all Orthodox Christians asleep in the Lord” on it in both English and Russian.

Research at the Essex Records Office, by the church’s the Rev Andrew Phillips, uncovered a list of 469 soldiers buried on the land.

In the supporting letter attached with the planning application, he said: “Apart from five virtually illegible headstones, these soldiers have no memorial.

“As we have recently obtained their names, we wish to commemorate them.

“This is part of Colchester’s heritage and yet very few Colcestrians realise the church gardens actually cover a cemetery.”

Namesake and Colchester historian, Andrew Phillips, said estimates of how many soldiers were buried on the site “range from guesstimates to hearsay”.

He added: “The land was used by the Army as a burial ground during the Napoleonic wars and a significant number of people were buried there.

“The Colchester Archaeological Trust investigated the site a few years back with ground penetrating radar, but it couldn’t throw any light on the total.

“As a soldier then, you had to be seriously important to get a headstone and I think a cross would be a fitting memorial.”

The Army stopped using the Grade II-listed church in 2007 as part of the redevelopment of Colchester Garrison, and it was transferred to developer Taylor Wimpey.

The church was sold to the Russian Orthodox Church the following year, with internal work carried out to suit its worship.