PAS DE CALAIS, France - Relatives of two British soldiers killed during World War I have attended a moving service for their uncle and great uncle who served in the 23rd (County of London) Battalion, and a third unknown soldier who served in the same regiment, at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Hermie Hills British Cemetary in Pas De Calais, in France.
Margot Bains, the niece of Private Henry Wallington, together with Paul and Chris Mead, great nephews of Private Frank Mead attended the service which was conducted by the Reverend Martin Wainwright CF, reserve Chaplain to the 4th Battalion, The Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment, whose current serving members formed the bearer parties for their three former comrades.
The Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the 'MOD War Detectives' organised the commemoration and funeral with full military honours, after they successfully identified Pte's Wallington and Mead and traced their surviving relatives.
"It has been a very moving ceremony and a great honour to name these two men and it has been fantastic to see the families here too," Nicola Nash, who led the work to identify the soldiers said. "We will continue with our research to name the third soldier."
Research shows that Pte Wallington and Pte Mead were killed on 3 December 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai, the battle which marked the first large scale use of tanks. The only artefact found with these men that gave a clue to their identity was a single 23rd (County of London) Battalion shoulder title.
After painstaking historical research, the JCCC narrowed the candidates down to 9 possible names and used genealogy to trace surviving members for DNA analysis to be conducted.
Two DNA samples returned positive results, identifying Henry Wallington and Frank Mead. Although the third soldier was found with the other men, all other DNA tests have come back negative, but the JCCC says it will continue investigating in the hope a future identification for him can still be made.
"We have never been to a military funeral before. It was beautifully done with military precision and it was so moving and to see the French people here too," Margot Bains, niece of Pte Wallington said.
Chris Mead, great nephew of Pte Mead said: "I am absolutely amazed the time and the trouble the MOD JCCC, the soldiers, everybody involved have gone to has been fantastic. We couldn't have asked for any more. It has been emotional."
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have now provided three new headstones at the Hermies Hill British Cemetery bearing the names of Pte Wallington, Pte Mead and the Unknown Soldier of the 23rd (County of London) Battalion.
"It was a great honour to recover these 3 casualties from the battlefield when they were discovered near Anneux in 2016. It is a privilege to be here today to see them laid to rest in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Hermies Hill British Cemetery alongside their comrades from the 23rd Battalion, London Regiment. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will proudly mark and care for their graves, together with all of those who served and fell, in perpetuity," Paul Bird, the Commission's Recovery Officer said.