The service was organised by the UK Defence Ministry's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (MOD JCCC), also known as the 'MOD War Detectives', and was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Loos British Cemetery, Loos-en-Gohelle in northern France (All images courtesy: UK MoD/Crown Copyright)
Two British soldiers killed on 26th September 1915 (during the Battle of Loos) were laid to rest with full military honours on Thursday, a century after their deaths.
The service was organised by the UK Defence Ministry's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (MOD JCCC), also known as the 'MOD War Detectives', and was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Loos British Cemetery, Loos-en-Gohelle in northern France.
One set of remains was recovered in January 2018 during a World War 1 ordnance search near Lens. Also found was a pocket watch and a spoon with the number 13228 stamped on the back. MOD JCCC and the CWGC confirmed it to be the regimental number of Private (Pte) William Johnston (aged 39) of 7th battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, having cross referenced it with war records that also confirmed he was the only casualty with this number who did not have a known burial place.
The MOD JCCC traced a great-great-niece who provided a DNA sample to compare with DNA taken from the remains. The results were conclusive. Pte Johnston’s service records no longer exist, so not much personal information is known about him.
"I was sent an email by a relative in America who had been contacted by the MOD War Detectives to say that they had found remains from the Great War. They asked for my DNA, that was the start of our journey. Later, once it was confirmed that William was our relative, we couldn't miss the opportunity to be here and pay our respects to a family member that, though we didn't know, we did not want him to be alone on his final journey," said Sharon Williamson, Johnston's great-great-niece and DNA donor.
The remains of another British soldier were found separately in the same area. Although it was not possible to identify him by name, MOD JCCC did confirm he served with the East Yorkshire Regiment due to two East Yorkshire shoulder titles being found with the remains.
"I'm delighted to see them both laid to rest in front of their military family and, in Pte Johnston's case, his biological family. May they both rest in peace," said Louise Dorr from MOD JCCC.
The service was conducted by the Reverend Dave Jeal, Chaplain to 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. Two bearer parties were provided by the Yorkshire Regiment and the Royal Regiment of Scotland respectively.
The graves will now be marked by headstones provided by the CWGC, who will care for their final resting place in perpetuity.
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