British soldiers recovered from Somme battlefield

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Private Harry Carter

Two British soldiers will be reburied at 11AM on 19 October at the Albert Communal Cemetery Extension in France.

The pair were part of a group of eight men from the 10th Battalion, Essex Regiment who were killed following the explosion of a massive German underground mine near the Somme village of La Boisselle on 22 November 1915.

First evidence

In 2010 the La Boisselle Study Group (LBSG) began an excavation in an area of land known during the First World War as ‘the Glory Hole’; supposedly because it was notoriously dangerous.

In summer 2013 the team discovered the first evidence of the Essex Regiment soldiers, including shoulder titles and buttons.

The eight men were recorded as having been ‘killed in action’, and had graves and headstones in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in the nearby town of Albert. LBSG historians, however, could find no documented evidence of the recovery of their bodies and it transpired they still lay where they had fallen.

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An Essex Regiment shoulder title (courtesy LBSG)

Fixed bayonets

The LBSG team began by recovering the remains of two of the soldiers, who appeared to have been on sentry duty when the mine exploded.

They lay close to rifles with fixed bayonets and also had bags of grenades and flares. The search for their six comrades then continued, but the project became further complicated by the discovery of two French soldiers buried barely half a metre from the British remains.

These men were identified as privates Louis Heurt and Appolinaire Ruelland (of the 118th Infantry Regiment), who had been killed in early January 1915 and buried in the wall of what had been their trench.

Two metres further along the trench the archeologists discovered the timber remnants of the dugout in which the remaining six Essex soldiers were believed to have been sheltering when the mine exploded.

At the entrance were rifles, stacked helmets and boxes of hand grenades waiting to be picked up when the men went on duty.

Unfortunately, time on the dig ran out before the LBSG could agree terms with the landowner for a new contract to complete the recovery.

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Private William Marmon

Identity confirmed

The two sentries had been wearing fibre identity discs, but these had long since decayed. However, the Ministry of Defence Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) managed to locate descendants of all eight soldiers and to perform DNA testing.

This determined the two recovered bodies belonged to 21-year-old private William James Marmon (21) from St Pancras, London, and private Harry Carter (also 21) born in West Ham, Essex.

Marmon had been carrying three small ceramic figurines, usually found in cakes traditionally served in France at the festival of Epiphany, a French bullet head finely-carved with a heart symbol, a metal slot-machine token, some French coins and the remains of a pipe and lighter.

Carter was wearing a ‘trench-art’ ring on a finger of his right hand and was carrying a lighter, coins and writing paper.

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A fragment from a rifle marked 10th Essex and dated 1915 (courtesy LBSG)

The eight La Boiselle soldiers

Private Harry Carter, b. 1894, West Ham, estate agent’s assistant

Private Harry Fensome, b. 1896, Luton, moulder

Lance corporal Albert Huzzey, b. 1897, West Ham, errand boy

Private William J. Marmon, b. 1894, St Pancras, London

Private George Pier, b. 1890, Dagenham, Essex

Private Charles Ruggles, b. 1892, Halstead, Essex, farm labourer

Private Edward Toomey, b. 1889, Walworth, Surrey, restaurant kitchen porter

Private Charles Aldridge, b. 1888, Caxton, Cambridgeshire, farmer

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