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A 'Lost' British Soldier of WW1


Gardian

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Just a story that might interest some of you.

My cousin in the UK is actively researching his family tree.  It appears that his grandfather's brother was killed in WW1 and nobody really knew much about the circumstances - where, when etc. The young man's parents may well have been given some information at the time, but they are long since gone as is my cousin's grandfather.

My cousin embarked on the research and after some painstaking enquiries managed to ascertain his regimental details, date & place of death and where he is commemorated. Accordingly, he has decided to make a sort-of pilgrimage (with his Mother, the soldier's niece) to northern France in order to visit the place where the young soldier was killed and the cemetery where he is remembered.

He asked for my help in providing a translation of some questions that he proposed to ask in the village local to the battle. "Are you able to tell me where the Front Line was in October 1918?"  I told him that he'd be wasting his time - the chances of finding anybody walking around a tiny village like that on a Saturday afternoon who just might know the answer to that sort of question was less than zero. However, I said that I would contact the Mairie and (at Mrs G's suggestion) the nearest Office de Tourisme.

Within two hours of my email, the OdT came back with several attachments including a trench map covering the immediate area and some narrative (an Officer's battle report) for the day in question - his battalion was right next to the young man's. It was perfect information and my cousin will now be able to place their visiting group within a few hundred metres of where he was killed. Such a helpful person at the OdT at Le Cateau - OK, its their job but a superstar!

This young man was just 18 on his death, which occurred on 17th October 1918.  It was three weeks before the Armistice - his parents and younger brother probably didn't hear of his death until after the good news of the 'End of the Madness'.

    

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I'm sure your cousin and family will find a visit to the battle site and grave a very moving experiance. I went with my BiL to Tyn Cot cemetry in Flanders.  I had heard how the war graves commission maintains such places but I was stunned at just how perfect they are, I hope the money never runs out and the fallen continue to be honoured.  Some points that I didn't know before my visit but may interest your cousin.  By each entrance of the cemetry there is a folder with all the names and the precise location of burial, this makes it very easy to find who you are looking for.  Also, if there were physical remains to be buried, you got a gravestone, if nothing left then you get your name on a wall.

There are 50 000 names at Tyn Cott.

Identification in WWI was often difficult as the didn't have dog-tags, that only came later with American troops in WWII.  Before that a corpse was identified by the pay book carried in the breast pocket which explains why there are so many gravestones with 'Known only to God'

EDIT:  You probably know this already but the War Graves Commission has an excellent website to find a grave and other info 

www.cwgc.org

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It’s really good to hear of an office de tourisme being so helpful. I hope they ‘enjoy’ their visit.

I would also like to endorse Pierre’s post, in particular his recommendation of the War Graves Commission website. I used it to find one of my great-uncles earlier this year. All I knew was his name and I wasn’t even sure that he had actually died in the 1914-18 war.

His name was a common one and it took me a while to wade through all of them, but I eventually found it. Once you have this you can then check service records, which are also available on-line and there is often an obituary in a local paper which can also be checked. I found out that my great-uncle had been a talented linguist; unfortunately that gene did not descend in my bit of the family.

The War Graves Commission do wonderful work where they can; my great-uncle is buried in Baghdad and I have no idea what kind off a state his grave is in.

Hoddy
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Pierre & Hoddy .............

Many thanks for that, but my cousin had already got the information needed from the CWGC.  His name is apparently on a plaque at the cemetery, but no grave, so as you've implied there probably wasn't a body to bury.

In my OP, I mentioned some narrative sent by the OdT. On studying the document more closely, it is in fact the text of a book written in the 20's by the former Colonel of the 5th Bn Lincolnshire Regt. I came across this passage, which amongst all the rest of the mayhem has an almost 'Pythonesque' feel to it.

A party of prisoners was being conducted back by Private J. Towers and another man, but lost their direction in the fog and walked into a detachment of 3 enemy machine guns under an officer. Private Towers immediately threatened the officer, and told him he was a prisoner. The German officer, who could speak English, said, "No, you are my prisoner". Private Towers argued with the officer, told him he was surrounded, then went up and kicked over one of the machine guns, when the officer and his men surrendered. By his coolness and confidence in an awkward situation, Private Towers was enabled to extricate himself from a difficult position, and bring in an officer and 40 more prisoners, and he well deserved the Military Medal, which was subsequently awarded.

 

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[quote user="Hoddy"].....

The War Graves Commission do wonderful work where they can; my great-uncle is buried in Baghdad and I have no idea what kind off a state his grave is in.

Hoddy[/quote]

It's not up to their usual standard, I think: this picture (from Google Earth) shows what it looked like in April 2011. The CWGC says they are unable to maintain the cemetery at present.

[URL=http://s585.photobucket.com/user/Vanman15/media/Baghdad_zps25705254.jpg.html][IMG]http://i585.photobucket.com/albums/ss293/Vanman15/Baghdad_zps25705254.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

The CWGC Cemetary in Kut (also Iraq) seems to have been completely trashed. There are a couple of pictures on Google Earth but they are too depressing to post.

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  • 1 month later...

On the Eve of Armistice Day, I just thought that I'd post an update to my OP about my cousin's visit to northern France.

It took place a few weeks ago and they were able (with the help of the OdT at Le Cateau) to pinpoint within 1km2 the area of his great Uncle's death in mid-Oct 1918.

As I've heard subsequently, it was quite poignant for them: this was a young man of barely 18 years, who was simply declared as KIA somewhere in France. Not good by any means, yet good for them to pay their respects for the first time as a family. 

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It not brilliant but I have a 1918 trench map you can see it here

http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=23070c41-1e86-49ce-b0aa-5fa868161b23&m=false&i=0:0:1&c=-0.127511:-0.535772:-0.380822&z=431.749815274973&d=2.32249440363578:-2.47064801438086:-2.34760637786724&p=0:0&t=False

I think you need to paste the link into your browser
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