Nine British soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War have finally been laid to rest, more than a century after their deaths.
The fallen servicemen were given full military honours at a poignant burial service at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium on Wednesday.
The nine soldiers, seven of whom have been identified, now rest alongside the graves of thousands of their comrades who fell during heavy fighting around the town of Ypres.
The seven men served together in 11th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, and died within days of each other during the bloody Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917.
What started as a grey and rainy morning broke into sunshine as the coffins were carried into the cemetery, draped in Union flags.
Leading the service, reverend Gary Watt paid tribute to the nine men who gave their lives more than a century ago.
He said: “Today we remember with thanksgiving these brave men whom, alongside so many others, answered the call of their country, served with honour and gave their lives in the service of their nation.
“In so doing let us commit ourselves anew to remember their courage.
“For by so doing we honour their memory and we reflect upon that sacrifice.”
Many of their surviving family members attended the touching ceremony, laying wreaths and flowers as they paid their respects.
The Duke of Kent was also in attendance, alongside members of The 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who honoured the fallen soldiers with a gun salute.
The seven identified servicemen are:
– 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Wallace Ablett, born in Manchester and later lived in Streatham, south London. Died aged 20.
– 2nd Lieutenant Edward Douglas Bruty, from Dulwich, now south London. Died aged 21.
– Sergeant Thomas Feasby, from Eston, North Yorkshire. Died aged 32.
– Lance Corporal Stanley Blakeborough, from Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire. Died aged 21.
– Private Harry Miller, born in Cockerton, Co Durham, and later lived in Burton Leonard, North Yorkshire. Died aged 28.
– Private Joseph Patrickson MM, from Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Awarded the Military Medal for bravery during the fighting in October 1917. Died aged 24.
– Private Arnold Sanderson MM, from Darlington, Co Durham. Awarded the Military Medal for his bravery during the fighting in October 1917 while working as a runner for the officers. Died aged 26.
As the service drew to a close, the famous line from Laurence Binyon’s poem For The Fallen – “We will remember them” – was read out and echoed by military and civilian guests.
In the surrounding hills, no longer scarred by trenches and covered in barbed wire, farmers ploughed their fields.
The bodies of the nine men, like those of so many of their comrades who died on the battlefields of the First World War, had been missing for a century.
But thanks to extensive research combined with knowledge gleaned from a small number of personal belongings found with them, experts were able to identify seven of the nine servicemen.
The “War Detectives”, as the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) team are known, were able to track down surviving family members to complete the identification with DNA testing.
Steven Willis-Feasby, the great nephew of Sgt Feasby, told the PA news agency the whole experience had been “really emotional”.
He added: “I always had a feeling that maybe there was some family history on this side because my paternal grandfather from my mother’s side, he was in the First World War as well and survived, but obviously Thomas didn’t.
“I think that his mother wouldn’t have known where Thomas fell or what happened to him and I’m privileged that I’ve come here to represent our family. He’s back with us now.”
Rachel Fixsen attended the ceremony to pay her respects to 2nd Lt Ablett, her first cousin three times removed.
She told PA: “For me personally looking into his history… and also reading accounts about how these soldiers fought, what it was like for them on the front line and behind the front line, that’s really brought it home to me what happened and what they went through, and ultimately died.
“I thought the service was beautiful, it was meticulously organised and carried out and just the best way to honour these men.”
Claire Horton, director general of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), said: “The CWGC is honoured to have worked alongside the JCCC in the recovery and identification of these men and to now be caring for them in perpetuity in Tyne Cot, CWGC’s largest cemetery.
“The fact that so many of them have been positively identified is testament to the collective dedication that continues to this day, to remember our fallen.”
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