Engraved spoon helps identify a First World War soldier as two combatants are buried

Image: Artefacts found that led to the identification of Pte Johnston. Credit: Crown copyright.

Two British soldiers killed on 26 September 1915, during the Battle of Loos, were laid to rest with full military honours on Thursday, May 5, a century after their deaths.

An engraved spoon provided a vital link between one fallen soldier and his identity.

The service was organised by the MOD’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 First World War 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 great-great-niece, Sharon Williamson, of Portadown, County Armagh, said: “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.”

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.

Louise Dorr, MOD JCCC Caseworker said: “I’m both pleased and saddened that although I have been able to identify one of these soldiers by name, there are just too many casualties missing from the 8th East Yorkshire Regiment for us to be able to name their casualty.

The JCCC Caseworker added: “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.”

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Fergal MacErlean

Originally from Dublin, Fergal is based on the eastern Costa del Sol and is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]