British Army Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Burying Party for WWI Unknown Soldier (Crown Copyright, 2018)

Still Burying WWI Dead

First World War Unknown Soldier Given Final Resting Place

The soldier was discovered in a field near to the village of Westhoek, near Ypres, Crown Copyright, All rights reserved

The soldier was discovered in a field near the village of Westhoek, near Ypres (Crown Copyright, 2018).

An unknown British soldier has been afforded a final resting place 100 years after he was killed during World War I. The burial, with full military honours, took place on 8 November at Buttes News British Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium.

Members of the current day Royal Regiment of Fusiliers formed a bearer party to escort their fallen former comrade into the cemetery within a coffin draped in the union flag. The Reverend Stuart Richards CF, Chaplain to the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers conducted the service and paid tribute to the sacrifice the soldier made, and by so many more, 100 years ago. A bugler of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers sounded the Last Post.

The service was organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, part of Defence Business Services, who work to identify the 40 plus sets of remains of British personnel found on historical First World War battlefields, and where possible, trace their surviving families.

Third Battle of Ypres

The soldier was discovered during engineering works in February 2017 in a field near to the village of Westhoek, near Ypres. Although it can’t be certain when he died, research shows the village of Westhoek was fought over from August to September 1917 during the 3rd Battle of Ypres.

Artefacts found with the soldier included British uniform buttons, a belt buckle and a folded rain cape. Unfortunately, as no regimental insignia were found it has been impossible to trace his name because of the tens of thousands of British soldiers killed with no known grave within the Ypres Salient.

Tracey Bowers, Head of the JCCC Commemorations team said:

Today we have provided a British unknown warrior with his final resting place, 100 years after he died. Sadly, it was not possible to identify him but his name is known unto God and we will always remember the sacrifice he made.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who own and maintain the Buttes News British Cemetery, will now care for the soldier in perpetuity.

‘We Owe a Debt of Gratitude for their Sacrifice’

Ahead of the centenary of the First World War, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood attended the burial of another unknown British soldier of the Lancashire Fusiliers, alongside current serving members of the Fusiliers. The service was organised by MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC, part of Defence Business Services) and held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Tyne Cot Cemetery, near Ypres, Belgium. Two unknown Australian soldiers who were found alongside their British comrade were also commemorated.

Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Tobias Ellwood said:

We owe these soldiers a debt of gratitude for their sacrifice and it is fitting that we can at last give them a deserved military burial here in Belgium.

As we approach the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, it is a poignant and timely reminder of the bravery of our Armed Forces. Throughout our country’s history, they have given everything to keep us safe, and continue to do so today at home and abroad.

Tracey Bowers, JCCC said:

It is right and fitting that this Fusilier is finally laid to rest alongside his Australian comrades and they have been given a dignified burial. Although over 100 years since they paid the ultimate sacrifice we will always remember them.

The three soldiers were laid to rest by bearer parties formed from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (for the British Fusilier) and the Australian Army, which included a firing party from the UK and Australia. A band from the Australian Armed Forces performed along with military buglers from both countries.

The Reverend Stuart Richards CF, Chaplain to the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and Reverend Peter Friend, Chaplain (Group Captain) Royal Australian Air Force jointly conducted a moving service.

The remains of the three soldiers were uncovered during civil engineering works in May 2016, found lying side by side within what is believed to be a World War I shell hole along the Vifwegesstraat, a road leading to the Tyne Cot Cemetery. Artefacts found at the grave site included fragments from a winter coat, shoulder titles of the Lancashire Fusiliers, service buttons, British boots, a leather belt with four cap badges attached, a smoker’s pipe and a pencil with inscription from Eagley Cricket Club near Bolton, Lancashire.

Battle of Passchendaele

Despite extensive research undertaken the JCCC has been unable to confirm the identity of the British soldier due to the Regiment losing 200 men with only a small percentage with known graves. However, JCCC’s research indicated that the Lancashire Fusiliers were in the location as they engaged in the Third Battle of Ypres – the Battle of Passchendaele, which took place between July and November 1917.

The battle lasted a total of 105 days and the capturing of the village of Passchendaele (now spelt Passendale) came at a terrible cost as it is estimated that there were over 500,000 casualties, 42,000 of which were never recovered. JCCC will continue to make enquiries about the case in the hope that an identification may still be made in the future and his grave rededicated to bear his name.

Source: MOD

Image: The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers formed the bearer party to take the unknown British soldier to his final resting place (Crown Copyright, 2018).