Private John Lynn VC, DCM
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Re-burial of Pte Harry Wilkinson 2nd Battalion
BURY Fusilier Private Harry Wilkinson was finally laid to rest close to where he was killed nearly 87 years ago.
Three generations of his family were joined at Flanders by civic dignitaries, military representatives and members of the public as they watched his coffin, draped with a Union flag, a wreath of poppies and a beret bearing the primrose hackle of the Lancashire Fusiliers, was carried into the churchyard at Prowse Point Military Cemetery near Warneton, Belgium.
Pte Wilkinson's remains were carried by six members of his former regiment.
During the service on Wednesday, tribute was paid to the soldier's sacrifice and, as his coffin was lowered into the ground, a single bugler sounded the Last Post.
A volley of shots was then fired over the graveside by members of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, to remember the Bury soldier and father who died in the 'war to end all wars'.
The Wilkinson family, who were traced as a result of work carried out by the Bury Times, said they were extremely proud that their brave relative had finally been honoured.
Nine-year-old Jay Wilkinson attended the funeral with his mother,
Annette Wilkinson and his great-aunt, June Brammer, the Fusilier's
Young Jay was given the honour of wearing his great- great-grandfather's three military medals, the Mons Star, the War Medal and the Victory Medal, as he laid a wreath following the service. It read: "Harry, lost but now found. God Bless."
Five hundred people, including the Duke of Kent, packed into the small, wind-swept cemetery, which lies along the former Flanders front line.
The Duke, who is the Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, senior military officers from the regiment, and other members of his family also laid wreaths at the graveside. Mrs Wilkinson said: "It has been nice to put him to rest at last."
Pte Wilkinson's remains were the first to be identified in 25
years in both Belgium and France, after they were discovered in January
Private Wilkinson's family gathered for the service in Belgium
Since 1928 the Last Post has been played each day at 2000 to remember those commemorated on the gate war memorial.
To mark the 25,000th sounding of the Last Post, a short service will take place at the gate on Wednesday afternoon, attended by the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Phillipe of Belgium.
As part of the commemoration a different soldier, sailor or airman killed during the 1914-1918 War is to be honoured each day for a year.
Mr Wilkinson, who was killed during
According to military records, the 29-year-old cotton mill fire-beater had been shipped out to the front on August 23, 1914. He left behind his pregnant wife, Eva, and his six-year-old son, Harry, at their Lord Street home in Bury.
He was then involved in non-stop action at Le Cateau, Marne and Aisne. His unit moved by train to the Ypres Salient and saw more combat at LeTouquet.
Seven hundred of the 1,100 Fusiliers he had sailed to France with were either dead or wounded.
Pte Wilkinson met his death, along with two other soldiers, during a raid on German-held trenches at a farm house in Ploegsteert Wood on November 10, 1914. His body was buried in a shallow shell crater by his brothers-in-arms.
His remains lay under the earth until they were uncovered by Belgian amateur war historian Patrick Roelens, after the ground had been ploughed for the first time in 85 years.
His metal military ID tag, and other Lancashire Fusilier artifacts were also discovered with Pte Wilkinson's remains.
The Wilkinson family, from Luton, now intend to return on another pilgrimage to Ypres to honour Pte Wilkinson.
World War I soldiers re-interred in Belgium
Pte Lancaster's remains were discovered by archaeologists in 2006 alongside two unknown soldiers who were also re-interred during today's ceremony.
Born in Lancashire in 1882, Pte Lancaster served in the Regular Army from 1901-05, when he married Phoebe Porter in Burnley. The marriage certificate lists them both as weavers. He was mobilised in August 1914 and embarked for France, where he saw action at Le Cateau and Armentières.
Pte Lancaster was killed in action on 10 November 1914 during a counter-attack south of Ieper (Ypres), near Ploegsteert Wood, only a few hundred yards from where the Christmas Truce would take place a month later.
The service in Ypres was attended by Pte Lancaster's granddaughter, Doreen Grimshaw, along with other family members. Doreen, aged 71, from Accrington, explained how she first heard that her grandfather's remains had been discovered:
"We got to know on Good Friday last year," she explained. "I was just totally surprised and amazed. Then things just snowballed from there as the arrangements for today began to take shape. At the time I wasn't thinking about actually going to Belgium myself but it's good to be here."
Doreen knew very little about her grandfather:
"I discovered through my grandmother that he died during the First World War. He was my dad's father, but my dad never really knew him as he was only four when his father died."
Doreen admitted to being apprehensive as the day of the ceremony drew nearer:
"I had mixed feelings; I've been a little nervous and was just hoping that the weather would hold today. Everybody involved has been really fantastic though, particularly Sue Raftree and her team.
"It's been a very emotional ceremony. Lots of soldiers were present in their ceremonial uniforms. Some people have travelled all the way from the UK, people that didn't even know my grandfather.
"His name is commemorated on a plaque in a church in Burnley
and some of the regulars to the church saw the story on the TV last
year. They recognised my grandfather's name and decided they would
come over to Belgium on the ferry and pay their respects by laying
Sue Raftree, from the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre based at RAF Innsworth in Gloucester, said:
"Today's events were especially moving and very professionally done by all those involved. The task at Prowse Point Cemetery was made a little harder by the fact that there were three coffins.
"Although Private Lancaster was found with his identity discs, the other two soldiers were not, so we had to check through the records to establish exactly which of the bodies was Private Lancaster."
In a separate service at nearby Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, the remains of an unknown Lancashire Fusilier were also re-interred today. The remains were found in May 2005 during archaeological excavations on the former Ypres-Roulers railway, 300 metres from Tyne Cot cemetery.
On 9 October 1917 six battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers took part in a final push to take the railway and the ridge at Poelkapelle. 307 men were killed in action; 247 of them have no known grave and are commemorated on the rear wall of the cemetery.
Following the ceremony the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 unveiled a plaque on the spot where the soldier was found and where a preserved section of the wartime railway has been restored. This now forms part of a walking and cycle path.
The re-interments in Belgium come eight days before the state ceremony to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, also at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
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