Every year, bodies are recovered from the battlefields of France and Belgium. Sometimes it is just an individual, at times groups of soldiers.
In the case of members of the various services of the British Empire the remains are held by the CWGC whilst efforts are made to identify them. Years can pass whilst the historians attempt to piece together the story. Sometimes the bodies help in identifying to whom they belonged : a cap badge, formation badge or signs of rank. Rare are the times that a body is recovered with something personal on him.
More often than not the battlefield has to be studied to identify who was in the area on a given date. From there the records may suggest a list of casualties.
Even if a list of possible casualties is obtained it is no simple task to resolve the equation. We are all aware of DNA and how it can be used to identify families and people. It is not possible however to always recover a sample of DNA from a hundred year old corpse, and even if it does prove possible to make an identification it is necessary to have a sample from a relative.
Finding the relatives is far from being an easy task.
16th April 2015
Prowse Point Military Cemetery
In the case of these six British soldiers buried at Prowse Point all that could be said of them was that : two served with The King’s Own Lancaster Regiment and two with The Lancashire Fusiliers. The other two soldiers remained completely unidentifiable.
Two burial parties were provided by the inheritors of the war time regiments : The 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment and The 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
The soldiers’ remains were found in 2008 and 2010 in a farmer’s field at Comines-Warneton near Le Touquet in Belgium. It is thought that they had probably been given field burials after the action in which they died in October 1914.
13th May 2015
Caix British Cemetery
The story for eight Canadian soldiers was somewhat different.
The remains of the eight men were discovered by 14 year old Fabien Demeusere who was happily playing in the garden of the family farm at Hallu when he found a skull in 2006. Further remains were found in 2007. Items on the bodies indicated that they were First World War soldiers of the Canadian Forces — specifically men from Winnipeg’s 78th Battalion Canadian Infantry — also known as the Winnipeg Grenadiers.
Research conducted by the Canadian military authorities established that the soldiers were killed on 11th August 1918 during an advance to capture the small village of Hallu. This was during the Battle of Amiens and not far from where I inaugurated the plaque to the 48th Highlanders of Canada, at Warvillers.
After eight years of anthropological and historical research that included DNA testing, it proved possible to identify five of the men :
• Lieutenant Clifford Abraham Neelands
• Private Sidney Halliday, 148581
• Lance Sergeant John Oscar Lindell, 147186
• Private Lachlan McKinnon, 148130
• Private William Simms, 148691
Numerous descendants of the five soldiers attended the reburial organised by the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
Posted : 13 June 2015