You must have heard the news last week about the WWI soldiers that were finally laid to rest almost a 100 years after they were killed in action? The remains of Lieutenant John Harold Pritchard and Private Christopher Douglas Elphick of The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) were found in 2009 by a French farmer along with two other unidentified HAC soldiers. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have also recently announced that a further five unknown soldiers were also re-interred in a separate ceremony on the same day. The elderly farmer, Didier Guerle, who discovered the soldiers had never ploughed the field but upon clearing it managed to unearth one of the soldier’s gas canisters in 2009. He then dug a little deeper and discovered the soldiers’ remains where they died in battle on 15 May,1917, during enemy attack near Bullecourt. Even when they were finally found they couldn't be laid to rest straight away and it took a further three years to trace the soldiers’ relatives. They were eventually identified by Lt Pritchard’s silver identity bracelet and PTE Elphick’s gold signet ring complete with his initials engraved on it. The British Army website reported that Lt Pritchard never married, but that Pte Christopher Elphick left a widow and newborn son Ronald Douglas, who was born in August 1916. Ronald never knew his father but kept his memory alive for his two sons Martin and Christopher, named after his grandfather. Finally laid to rest 96 years later...
Last week, on the 23rd
April, St George’s Day, the soldiers were re-interred with full military honours in a military cemetery near Arras in France, just two miles from where they fell in Bullecourt next to the Hindenburg Line. The descendants of both soldiers attended the ceremony as did His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent the Royal Honorary Colonel of the HAC. A military firing party fired a salute during the service and the families were presented with the items that helped identify the soldiers' - Lt Pritchard's identity bracelet and Pte Elphick's signet ring. Lt Pritchard's family were also given his officer's sword by an American collector who had come across the sword in the US, and donated it back to his family. The BBC reported that Lt Pritchard's nephew had said it was an "incredible" experience which he could "hardly put into words" and that despite knowing about his uncle's death during World War I, they had never expected his remains to be found. "It seems silly to say it but the feeling I had was that he is coming home. He isn't of course, but that was the feeling," said 89-year-old John. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission do a lot of work to commemorate the war dead, from building and maintaining cemeteries and memorials to the preservation of records and it is thanks to their great work that the many soldiers who died in war will never be forgotten. Sources: BBC News British Army Website
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