Australian Defence Force personnel have laid to rest two unknown Australian soldiers and an unknown British soldier in a joint burial ceremony a century after their deaths.
The funeral took place on 6 November at the Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium, only a few hundred metres from where the remains of the First World War soldiers were discovered in May 2016.
The European Case Manager for Unrecovered War Casualties–Army, Alan Cooper, said the soldiers deserved a dignified burial with full military honours.
“It is important that we recognise these soldiers for what they sacrificed for us more than 100 years ago. We are thankful that we can give them that honour here today,” Mr Cooper said.
“As the two Australian and one British soldier were found together it’s only fitting that we bury them side by side.”
Despite extensive investigations by the Unrecovered War Casualties–Army team and the UK’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, Mr Cooper said it had not been possible to identify the three men.
Their remains were discovered during waterworks in what is believed to be an old WWI shell-hole, a typical approach to practical burials on the Western Front at the time.
Mr Cooper said the recovery location indicated they died during the Third Battle of Ypres – more widely known as the Battle of Passchendaele – fought from July to November 1917.
“Artefacts found with the soldiers, including remnants of winter clothing, suggest that they died towards the end of the battle during the winter months,” he said.
These artefacts were also key to determining the soldiers’ nationality. Mr Cooper said the iconic Australian Rising Sun Badge was found with the Australian casualties while the British soldier was found with shoulder titles of the Lancashire Fusiliers, service buttons and British boots.
Bearer parties formed by the Australian Army and the UK’s Lancashire Fusiliers carried the caskets containing the remains of the soldiers alongside the 18-man firing party made up of Australia’s Federation Guard personnel and British soldiers.
Firing party member Corporal Luke Greene said emotions were running high during the service.
“As I looked out towards the surrounding farmlands listening to the music play, I could not help but feel moved and then the enormity of what we were doing hit me,” Corporal Greene said.
“I experienced sadness and joy all mixed into one: sadness because of what happened 100 years ago and joy knowing that they were being put to rest in the best way possible.”
The Battle of Passchendaele was costly for both countries with more than 275,000 British Empire casualties, including 38,000 Australians.
Mr Cooper said that Unrecovered War Casualties–Army and their UK counterparts would continue to seek the identities of the unknown soldiers using DNA taken before their burial.
“Thanks to the NSW Government’s Forensic and Analytical Science Service who extracted the DNA, we are hopeful that we may one day see them identified.”