A century on, in a foreign field that is forever England, 20 soldiers are laid to rest

0
Have your say

Twenty British soldiers killed in action during the First World War have finally been laid to rest with full military honours, almost 100 years after they died.

The soldiers who perished in the Battle of Loos in 1915 were found in 2010 during clearance work for a new prison near Vendin-le-Vieil, north of Arras, in France.

Only one of the troops discovered has been identified - Private William McAleer, of the 7th Battalion the Royal Scottish Fusiliers, part of the 45th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division.

Born in Leven, Fife, 22-year-old Pte McAleer died shortly after the battle began and he was identified due to his body being found with his small home-made metal ID tag.

Little is known about Pte McAleer but it is known that his father was a miner who died in a pit accident, and his mother later remarried.

Among the other soldiers who died and were found at the same time were a Northumberland Fusilier, another six Royal Scottish Fusiliers and a member of the York and Lancaster Regiment.

Today representatives from all the regiments with links to the British troops attended a reinterment service at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Loos-en-Gohelle, near Lens.

Those who could not be identified were buried as soldiers “Known unto God” in front of more than 200 people, including Pte McAleer’s great step nephew, Stephen McLeod.

Father of two Mr McLeod, 47, a former Black Watch soldier who lives in Cowdenbeath, said Pte McAleer was “an enigma”.

He said: “I knew about his existence and knew he died in the First World War, but I didn’t know his body wasn’t found.

“That was news to myself when the military put out an appeal for his descendants to come forward. It was my cousin who heard the appeal, who in turn contacted my brother.”

All 20 soldiers were given full military honours. Pte McAleer’s coffin was given his own burial plot, with his headstone reading “13766, Private W. McAleer Royal Scots Fusiliers, 26th September 1915, age 22”.

The remainder were buried in six other plots side by side.

In thick fog, a piper led six bearers as they carried Pte McAleer’s Union flag-draped coffin topped with a wreath, belt and cap past the crowds and the burial plots of hundreds of other fallen soldiers.

A military firing party fired a salute during the service, led by the Reverend Colin MacLeod, and the Last Post was played.

Back to the top of the page