Tracing the roots of a World War One Soldier

Blogger: GemSen

Nearly a million British soldiers died in the Great War — it is believed that around half were unidentifiable, buried in graves with simple unnamed white headstones, marked with just the words: ‘A Soldier of The Great War, Known Unto God'. 

Private James Rowan, is one soldier remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Flanders, Belgium, which records the missing in the First World War. The Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, which investigates the discovery of missing bodies killed in action believes that they have possibly identified his remains and two other combatants among six sets found close to a railway siding outside Comines-Warneton, Belgium, in 2010.

During the conflict Pte rowan was killed, at age 30, on a Belgian battlefield near the village of Comines-Warneton. His suspected remains were found four years ago by an amateur archaeologist, which then inspired some genealogy research. This included some cross-references of military records, including war and regimental diaries which all suggested that the remains were those belonging to Pte Rowan.

Believing that DNA samples could provide conclusive proof of the suspected identity, the MoD are now trying to track down the relatives of Pte Rowan, who is believed to be of Irish descent.

His family apparently moved from their hometown of County Longford to Lancashire, where he was born in the late 1800s. It is believed that the Rowan family eventually moved back to Co Longford.

Originally working as a miner, James Rowan enlisted with the 1st Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers when World War One broke out.

Lynne Gammond of British army headquarters at Andover, Wiltshire, told the Belfast Telegraph that they have little to go on but are anxious for anyone who might know of or be linked to the family to contact them.

"Private James Rowan is among those remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Flanders which records the many missing in the First World War," she said.

"It would be good to hear from any relatives who could be involved now that we can arrange an interment and memorial."

"Unfortunately, whilst we know his family roots were in Longford and there is speculation that the family later returned there we have little more to go on," she added.

If the remains do get confirmed by DNA results, Pte Rowan will be buried in the Comines-Warneton cemetery along with his fallen comrades. The MoD said his family would also be invited to a memorial service. It is also planning a re-interment and memorial service for the soldier.

Anyone with information which may to the location of Mr Rowan’s living relatives can contact Ms Gammond by emailing, or by phoning 0044 7769 887 707 or 0044 3067 701 322.

The Ploegsteert Memorial commemorates more than 11,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in this sector during the First World War and have no known grave. The memorial serves the area from the line Caestre-Dranoutre-Warneton to the north, to Haverskerque-Estaires-Fournes to the south, including the towns of Hazebrouck, Merville, Bailleul and Armentieres, the Forest of Nieppe, and Ploegsteert Wood. The original intention had been to erect the memorial in Lille.

Source: Longford Leader & Belfast Telegraph & CWGC

Do you know enough about your WWI military ancestors?

War touches many people’s lives. Is your family’s military history waiting to be discovered? Is there a war hero in your family waiting to be remembered? Did any members of your family get awarded medals for their actions in war?

Perhaps they did, but you just haven’t found out about it yet…Why not search the Forces War Records site and take a look at the wealth of records and historic documents the company holds. Let us help you start, or continue your family history quest…

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