The graves of six soldiers from Welsh regiments, who went missing in France and Belgium during World War One, have now been marked more than a century after their deaths.

Padre Richard Mutter leads the service at Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery (Crown Copyright)

Though all six soldiers had been buried at the times of their deaths, their names had been lost. Their graves were only identified recently after researchers submitted cases to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC). 

Further research by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, the CWGC, and the National Army Museum, used sources such as war diaries, service records, grave registration reports and other documents. Following this, the original findings were confirmed allowing each soldier to be commemorated by name. 

The grave rededication services were organised by JCCC, and saw named headstones provided for Second Lieutenant (2/Lt) Noel Osbourne Jones; 2/Lt Herbert Taggart; Private (Pte) Lionel Grove and Captain (Capt) Clifford Nichols, all of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, as well as Lance Corporal (L/Cpl) Arthur Dowding of the Monmouthshire Regiment and Pte George Price of the South Wales Borderers. The services were attended by serving soldiers and representatives of The Royal Welsh. 

The services were held in France on 2 July at CWGC’s Bellicourt British Cemetery and Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery, as well as in Belgium, on 3 July, at Bedford House Cemetery and Chester Farm Cemetery. The family of Captain Nichols attended. 

JCCC Caseworker, Alexia Clark, said: 

Researching these six men and getting to know their individual war stories has been a fascinating journey. It has been a privilege to have played a part in the conclusion of those stories and to know that their families finally have answers to what happened to them. 

2/Lt Noel Osborne-Jones, 2/Lt Herbert Taggart, and Pte Lionel Grove were all killed on 8 May 1916 while conducting a trench raid. Their bodies were recovered by the Germans and buried by them at Fournes, before being moved to the Cabaret Rouge Cemetery after the war. Unfortunately, the Germans did not know their names, and as such they identified their bodies only by rank and regiment. Following the war, all three men were named on the Memorial to the Missing at Loos. 

L/Cpl Dowding was killed in action near Ramicourt in October 1918, just weeks before the end of the war. Although he was buried at the time of his death, key information about his grave was lost in the chaos of conflict, and after the war he was named on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. 

The military party stands behind the headstone of L/Cpl Dowding (Crown Copyright)

Captain Nichols was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele on 31 July 1917. At the time of his death, he was listed as a member of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who had been attached to 164 Machine Gun Company. His body was recovered from an unmarked field grave near Spree Farm in 1923, and his rank and regiment were identified by his buttons and badges. Unfortunately, there was nothing to indicate his name at the time, and he was buried as an unknown officer. Following the war, Capt. Nichols was commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres. 

The family of Captain Nichols stands with the military party at the graveside (Crown Copyright)

Private Price was killed in action near Hill 60, Belgium in October 1917. He was originally buried in a field grave, but by the end of the war all recordings of his name had been lost. He was commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.  

Wreaths and flowers laid at the grave of Pte Price (Crown Copyright)

The services were conducted by The Reverend Richard Mutter CF, Chaplain to 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh. 

The Reverend Richard Mutter CF said: 

To restore the names to these young men and to honour their sacrifice here in this place is a very special thing. I am pleased to have led these services of rededication and to help close the final chapter of these men’s stories.

The headstones over the graves were replaced by CWGC. Xavier Puppinck, France Area Director at CWGC, said: 

It is an honour for the CWGC to care for the graves of these six valiant soldiers of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the Monmouthshire Regiment and the South Wales Borderers who went missing in France and Belgium during World War One. They paid the ultimate price while fighting on the Western Front, more than 100 years ago. And now, it is our privilege and duty to care for their graves in perpetuity.

Published 4 July 2024