WWI diggers laid to rest

Discussion in 'Barracks' started by Antipodean Andy, Oct 4, 2007.

  1. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member


    NINETY years ago, Australian diggers Sergeant George Calder and Private John Hunter were among thousands of soldiers whose bodies went missing on the bloody World War I battlefields of Belgium.

    But thanks to some routine roadworks in a quiet Flemish town last year and high-tech DNA tests, four of the soldiers' closest surviving relatives finally laid them to rest in Belgium overnight.

    The relatives joined Governor-General Michael Jeffery at the Buttes Military Cemetery for a re-interment ceremony with full military honours for the two soldiers and three others found buried in an unmarked grave.

    The diggers perished in September 1917 during the Allies' notorious fight for Polygon Wood against the Germans during the Battle of Passchendaele campaign (or Third Battle of Ypres).

    Their remains were identified from a group of five Australian soldiers found buried in August last year in the rural town of Westhoek, near Ieper (Ypres) in west Flanders.

    A team of roadworkers laying gas pipes found the bodies wrapped in blankets or groundsheets and tied up with signal wire.

    While their Australian army uniforms and rising sun badges indicated what country they were from, DNA tests were carried out on the remains and unlocked the mystery of two of their identities.

    Sgt Calder, a renowned non-commissioned officer of the 51st Battalion, was positively identified after his 77-year-old great-niece Faye Harris provided a saliva swab for testing from her home in Melbourne earlier this year.

    While she was too frail to attend the ceremony overnight, her daughters Sue Moore and Anne Morrison flew from Melbourne.

    "She is really pleased that we could come and represent her," Mrs Moore said.

    "She has found it all very emotional."

    In less than six weeks, 8000 Australian soldiers lost their lives and another 30,000 were wounded in the Passchendaele battles - losses equal to the entire Gallipoli campaign.

    Before he was killed at age 24 on the muddy battlefields of Belgium, Sgt Calder lived in Victorian town of Goldsborough and Boulder, in outback Western Australia.

    His fellow digger, Pte Hunter, 29, belonged to the 49th Infantry Battalion, and was a cattle farmer from the southern Queensland town of Nanango.

    Pte Hunter's niece Mollie Millis, who lives in Brisbane, and nephew Jim Hunter, who also hails from Nanango, travelled to Belgium this week to farewell him.

    Mr Hunter's father, also named Jim, enlisted two days before his brother and they managed to remain together until Pte Hunter was killed in action.

    But while Pte Hunter and Sgt Calder have finally been identified, mystery surrounds the identity of the other three bodies.

    Sisters Rosemary Sheehan and Adrienne Verco also travelled to Belgium for the interment amid hopes that their missing great uncle, Pte Colin Neil McArthur, was one of the unidentified trio.

    A DNA sample provided by their mother was initially thought to be a match, but the sisters learned after arriving in Brussels on Monday it was "inconclusive".

    While disappointed, they chose to represent the relatives of the three unknown soldiers.

    "The unknown are not going to their graves unloved," Mrs Sheehan said.
  2. spidge

    spidge Active Member

    Rest in Peace!
  3. sniper

    sniper Active Member

    May they always be remembered.
  4. Kitty

    Kitty New Member

    Sleep well boys.
  5. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης


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