WWI soldiers finally laid to rest after bodies were found in field

Laid to rest a century on: Three British WWI soldiers whose bodies were found in a French field 99 years after they were killed in the Battle of Cambrai are buried with full military honours

  • Private Henry Wallington, Private Frank Mead and a third unidentified British soldier were buried earlier today
  • Group were found on battlefield near Anneux in February 2016 when man dug a trench for a garden drainpipe
  • Researchers used shoulder title found with them to trace relatives and test DNA against samples from bodies

The bodies of three young British privates killed in the First World War have finally been laid to rest more than 100 years after they died.   

Private Henry Wallington, Private Frank Mead and a third unidentified soldier were buried in front of a small crowd of people at a service in northern France today.

The remains of all three were discovered on the battlefield near Anneux in February 2016.

Researchers used the single identifying artefact found with them – a 23rd (County of London) Battalion shoulder title – and DNA tests on surviving relatives to work out who they were.

Private Henry Wallington, Private Frank Mead and a third unidentified soldier were buried earlier today after their bodies were found on the battlefield in Anneux, northern France, in February 2016 – 99 years after they died

The group were buried with full military honours after readings by relatives, a firing salute was sounded and The Last Post was played

Margot Bains, Pte Wallington’s niece, is pictured reading a poem during the service. She said after: ‘It’s been beautiful, very moving. We didn’t know about Henry, we didn’t know he existed at all’

Researchers used the single identifying artefact found with them – a 23rd (County of London) Battalion shoulder title – and DNA tests on surviving relatives to work out who they were. Pictured: family members at today’s service

The group were buried with full military honours after readings by relatives, a firing salute was sounded and The Last Post was played.

Born in Peckham in 1895, Frank Mead, pictured in his uniform, was the son of Thomas Mead and Elizabeth Louisa Rutland. He died aged 23

Pte Wallington’s niece Margot Bains, and Paul and Chris Mead, the two great-nephews of Pte Mead, attended today’s funeral at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) British cemetery at Hermies Hill, near Albert. 

Known as the war detectives, the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) organised the service after identifying the two soldiers and tracing their surviving relatives.

Research suggests Ptes Wallington and Mead were killed on December 3, 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai – which marked the first large-scale use of tanks – while they were both in their early twenties.

Born in Peckham in 1895, Frank Mead was the son of Thomas Mead and Elizabeth Louisa Rutland. He died aged 23. 

Through his brother Reginald, the JCCC sourced a DNA sample and traced his great-nephews Paul Mead, who lives in California, and Chris Mead, from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Chris Mead, who will on Wednesday visit for the first time the area where his great-uncle died in battle, said: ‘We couldn’t believe it when we heard.

‘It’s been an emotional time and we never dreamt of anything like this. It’s been a fantastic experience, an incredible event and very moving.

‘My father passed away four years ago but he had held on to all of Frank’s letters. We had the letters from the trenches but did not know where he (Frank) was. We are just grateful for the opportunity for his story to be told.’ 

Known as the war detectives, the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) organised the service after identifying the two soldiers and tracing their surviving relatives

Research suggests Ptes Wallington and Mead were killed on December 3, 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai – which marked the first large-scale use of tanks – while they were both in their early twenties

Pte Mead’s great-nephew Chris said: ‘My father passed away four years ago but he had held on to all of Frank’s letters. We had the letters from the trenches but did not know where he was. We are just grateful for the opportunity for his story to be told’

Also born in Peckham but a year later, Henry Wallington was born to Joseph Henry Wallington and Edith Bennett. He was 22 when he was killed.

He had three sisters, Dorothy, Mabel and Grace, and two half-brothers, Joseph and Walter.

It was through Walter that the JCCC was able to get a positive DNA match and trace his niece, Margot Bains. 

The battle of Cambrai 

At dawn on November 20, 1917, the British Third Army launched an attack towards Cambrai using the largest number of tanks so far in the conflict. 

Focusing their attack on the Germans’ Hindenberg line on the Western front, troops  were able to take around 7,500 prisoners. 

But more than half of the tanks were out of action by the end of the first day, despite British forces making advances of around five miles.

The soldiers were forced to retreat over the coming days because of bad weather and inadequate reinforcements. 

By early December, when the battle ended, more than 80,000 men from both sides were either wounded, missing or killed. 

Ms Bains, from Lincolnshire, said of today’s ceremony: ‘It’s been beautiful, very moving. We didn’t know about Henry, we didn’t know he existed at all.’ 

Family research uncovered that her father and his brother were illegitimate and given away when they were young, while their father had another family in London with four other children – three girls and a boy, Henry.

As far as the research shows, the family line has only been carried through on the side of the illegitimate children, Ms Bains said, adding: ‘My father didn’t know he had another family.

‘It is mixed feelings of course – not towards Henry but towards his father, because he gave my Dad away. That must have haunted them. It would have been very taboo at that time to have illegitimate children.’

Each year, the remains of around 40 British soldiers who died in the First World War are found on battlefields in Europe and the JCCC tries to identify them.

The three soldiers were found in a back garden in the village of Anneux when the owner dug a trench for a drainpipe.

A wristwatch, silver pipe band and remnants of British Army uniforms were also discovered but could not provide any further clues to identify the third man and the investigation continues.

Nicola Nash, who led the JCCC search to identify the soldiers, said: ‘Getting that match was just an amazing achievement. I’m just so pleased the families are actually able to be here today to see them be buried.

‘It’s absolutely devastating when you get two matches and one that actually hasn’t been identified. We will still keep working on it and we will identify him.’ 

Presenters Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell also attended the funeral while filming part of ITV’s Long Lost Family documentary for a special episode looking at the work of the JCCC. 

Each year, the remains of around 40 British soldiers who died in the First World War are found on battlefields in Europe and the JCCC tries to identify them

A wristwatch, silver pipe band and remnants of British Army uniforms were also discovered but could not provide any further clues to identify the third man and the investigation continues

Source: Read Full Article