British soldiers re-interred nearly a century later

23rd April 2013, Comments 0 comments

Four British soldiers were laid to rest with full military honours in northern France on Tuesday, nearly a century after they were killed in action in World War I.

The soldiers were interred in the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) Cemetery at Ecoust-Saint-Mein near the northern town of Arras in a ceremony attended by relatives of two of the four men who it was possible to identify.

Lieutenant John Harold Pritchard and Private Christopher Douglas Elphick were both killed during an attack by German forces near Bullecourt on the Hindenburg Line on the morning of May 15, 1917.

Their bodies were discovered with two other sets of remains in 2009 when a local farmer was clearing one of his fields.

Pritchard, 31 at the time of his death, was identified by a silver identity bracelet, and Elphick, 28, by a signet ring bearing his initials.

A former chorister and head boy at St Paul's cathedral school, Pritchard had joined the HAC as a reservist in 1909 and was part of the first wave of British soldiers to be sent into action when war broke out in 1914.

Injured in 1915, he could have opted for a desk job in London but chose to return to France, surviving the horrors of the Somme in 1916 before being slain as he led his men into a battle in which they were almost all killed.

Elphick, an insurance clerk, had joined up in 1915 and arrived in France in November 1916, three months after the birth of his son, Ronald Douglas, who was to survive service with the HAC during World War II but died before the discovery of his father's remains.

It is understood DNA samples have been taken to enable positive identification of the unknown soldiers should any relatives come forward in the future.

Hundreds of thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Great War were buried in unmarked graves across the swath of northern France and Belgium that witnessed the bloodiest fighting.

© 2013 AFP

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