The graves of Second Lieutenant (2ndLt) Joseph Bryson MC and 2ndLt William Cunningham have been identified side by side in a cemetery in Belgium more than a century after their deaths.

Pipe Major William Mitchell plays the lament during the rededication service (Crown Copyright)

A rededication service was held today, 10 July 2024, at the soldiers’ gravesides in Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), Dadizeele New British Cemetery. The service was organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, and was attended by serving soldiers of The Royal Irish Regiment. 

JCCC Caseworker, Rosie Barron, said: 

Both 2ndLt Bryson and 2ndLt Cunningham had been fighting on the Western Front since 1914 and were commissioned shortly before their deaths. These were two very capable professional soldiers who would have known that the end of the war was in sight, and yet continued to do their duty to the end. It has been an honour to organise this rededication service today and to see their sacrifice honoured. 

Joseph Bryson arrived on the Western Front on 11 November 1914. He was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre in April 1918, and the Military Cross on 25 September 1918.  

By October 1918 the static fighting associated with the Western Front had ended, and allied forces were advancing eastwards. On 6 October 1918, 2ndLt Bryson was killed by a shell while on patrol, aged 30. His body fell behind enemy lines but was recovered 7 days later and buried nearby. 

William Cunningham arrived on the Western Front on 15 December 1914. He was Commissioned into 4th Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1918 and attached to 1st Battalion. 

On 1 October 1918, 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers attacked Hill 41. Heavy resistance was met, but Twig Farm was captured, and a line was established north and south of the location. The battalion suffered very heavy casualties, and 2ndLt Cunningham was among those killed, aged 27.  

After the war, the remains of 2ndLt Bryson and 2ndLt Cunningham were recovered and buried next to each other in Dadizeele New British Cemetery as unknown second lieutenants. One of the sets of remains was found with medal ribbons – an invaluable clue which would help significantly with the identification of 2ndLt Bryson’s grave. As Bryson and Cunningham’s locations were unknown at the end of the war, they were commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the missing.  

More recently, a researcher submitted evidence to CWGC hoping to identify the final resting places of 2ndLt Bryson and 2ndLt Cunningham. Further investigation by CWGC, the National Army Museum and JCCC confirmed their findings. 

Roy Stratton, the great nephew of Second Lieutenant Bryson, was presented with a Union Flag (Crown Copyright)

The service was conducted by the Reverend Jason Clarke MBE CF, Chaplain to 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment. He said: 

2ndLt Joseph Bryson was clearly a man of great courage, having shown his bravery in the cavalry charge of the Royal Irish Hussars, and had the notable honour of both a mention in dispatches and the Belgian Croix de Guerre, before his commission to The Royal Irish Fusiliers where he was once again honoured with the Military Cross. To receive such honours illustrates the qualities of a fine man, a bold leader and a courageous soldier. 2ndLt William Cunningham came through the ranks to become a leader in the 4th Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers. He demonstrated the qualities of one who could lead in the midst of war, and who stood with his men to the end of his life. His example inspires all who serve.

The family of Second Lieutenant Joseph Bryson MC stand with the military party at his graveside in Dadizeele New British Cemetery (Crown Copyright)

The headstone over the grave was replaced by CWGC.  

Geert Bekaert, Area Director for the CWGC, said:  

Caring for the graves of 2ndLt Joseph Bryson MC and 2ndLt William Cunningham of The Royal Irish Fusiliers is both a privilege and an honour. The CWGC is unwavering in its dedication to ensuring that these servicemen, who made the ultimate sacrifice, are remembered with the utmost dignity and respect in perpetuity. Our commitment extends beyond the present, reaching into the future, where their memory will endure for generations to come.

Published 10 July 2024