By John Ensor •
Updated: 26 Oct 2023 • 18:10
First World War heroes finally laid to rest.
OVER a century after they died fighting for their country, three soldiers from the Great War have been buried with full military honours in Belgium. With Remembrance Day soon upon us, does the memory of fallen soldiers still resonate with UK citizens today?
GOV.UK issued a press release on Wednesday, October 25, which detailed the story of Lance Serjeant Robert Brand, a young 24-year-old Glaswegian soldier, who was laid to rest with full military honours alongside two unidentified comrades from his regiment at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Messines Ridge Cemetery, Belgium.
The poignant burial was orchestrated by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also dubbed the ‘MOD War Detectives’.
Tracey Bowers, JCCC Case lead, commented: ‘Robert served his Country for the entirety of the War and paid the ultimate sacrifice, I am honoured to have worked on this case and be here today to pay my respects. It is always disappointing not to identify all soldiers but we will keep trying.’
Archaeologists, during a potato farm expansion in Neuve Eglise, Belgium, discovered the three soldiers. Artefacts pinpointed them as members of the 9th (Glasgow Highland) Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. Further clues, like battalion war diaries, suggested they perished between April 13 – 15, 1918, amidst the Battle of the Lys.
Several candidates were shortlisted using anthropological data, finds, and historical records. Efforts to trace eight missing regiment’s men were initiated.
DNA testing of descendants positively identified Lance Serjeant Robert Brand. Born in Stirling on September 13 1893, Robert had a rich history, including a gunshot wound in 1916 that left him with a distinctive wound stripe on his uniform, crucial for his identification.
Caroline Brand, his Great Niece, conveyed the family’s emotions: ‘The Brand Family is honoured and humbled to be able to attend the burial of our Uncle, Lance Serjeant Robert Brand and two of his fellow soldiers. It is amazing how remains have been found after all these decades.
‘We would like to thank the JCCC whom have guided us through the process of DNA and organising the burial. Also thank you to the Regiment for being here to support and honour. Last of all thank you Uncle Robert, who fought for our country and our family. We are very proud and grateful.’
Members of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, attended the burial. They provided the bearer party, Piper, and Bugler. Reverend David Jeal, officiating the service, remarked: ‘It is a great honour and privilege to finally lay our soldiers from World War 1 to rest.
‘We remember their sacrifice and have given them the full military burial they deserved, something I and all 2 SCOTS soldiers present will never forget.’
Lance Serjeant Brand and the two unknown heroes will receive everlasting care by CWGC. Geert Bekaert, CWGC Area Director, said: ‘It is a profound honour to now care for Lance Serjeant Robert Brand and his comrades at Messines Ridge Cemetery, Belgium.’
Bekaert added: ‘The CWGC reaffirms its dedication to preserving their memory in perpetuity. Their burial today echoes the lasting legacy of all British soldiers honoured during the First World War.’
In a concluding note, the JCCC appeals to families who might be related to Private Robert Campbell from the 9th Glasgow Highland Light Infantry to come forward.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
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