Three British WW1 soldiers buried after 'emotional' DNA match

The coffins of two young privates and an unknown soldier, who fought during World War One, during a burial service at Hermies Hill British Cemetery near Albert, France. Image copyright PA Wire
Image caption Two of the men were in their early twenties when they were killed

Two young British privates killed in World War One have been buried more than 100 years later.

Pte Henry Wallington and Pte Frank Mead, of the 23rd (County of London) Battalion, were identified using DNA samples from relatives.

Their bodies and a body of another unidentified British soldier were found in a back garden in France when the owner dug a trench for a drainpipe.

The three were buried with full military honours.

The families of Ptes Wallington and Mead paid their respects at a service at Hermies Hill British Cemetery near Albert, northern France, on Wednesday morning.

The bodies of the two privates and the third solder were discovered on the former battlefield in Anneux in February 2016, and the Ministry of Defence's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) set about identifying the three soldiers.

Image copyright PA wire
Image caption Pte Mead was 23 when he was killed

Using a single military shoulder tie as a starting point, the JCCC managed to identify two of the soldiers by tracing their families trees and finding DNA matches with surviving relatives.

The third man, from the same battalion, was not identified.

At the ceremony, the coffins were interred after readings were given by relatives, a firing salute sounded and the Last Post played.

'We couldn't believe it'

Relatives of those buried at the service said they were shocked at the news.

"We couldn't believe it when we heard," said Chris Mead, the great-nephew of Pte Mead.

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Image caption Soldiers from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment carried the coffins

"It's been an emotional time and we never dreamt of anything like this," he 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 (Frank) was. We are just grateful for the opportunity for his story to be told."

Research suggested Ptes Wallington and Mead were killed on 3 December 1917, while they were both in their early twenties.

Their deaths were during the Battle of Cambrai - which marked the first large-scale use of tanks.

Margot Bains, from Lincolnshire, was traced as a relative of Pte Wallington and attended the ceremony.

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Image caption Margot Bains, right, read a poem during the burial service

She told the Press Association: "It's been beautiful, very moving.

"We didn't know about Henry, we didn't know he existed at all."

Each year, the remains of around 40 British soldiers who died in World War One are found on the former battlefields of Europe.

More men to be identified

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is trying identify two other soldiers from the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment, and is urging relatives of potential candidates to come forward.

The two soldiers died on 29 September 1918 and were recovered from the battlefield near Villers-Guislain in 2014.

They are currently commemorated in northern France.

After extensive research, there are now four potential candidates for the men:

  • Private Sidney Roberts, born in Kilburn, Middlesex on 30 September 1898
  • Private John Rogers, born in Kent in 1876
  • Private Albert Jones, born in 1897 in Halesowen
  • Private Thomas Parker, born in 1885 in Stafford

The CWGC is encouraging anyone who believes they are related to any of these men to get in touch with its enquiries team.

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