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Finding Private Hunter, and Sergeant Calder, and Friends…

  • September 21st, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

war-graves.jpgAustralia’s Governor General is to officiate at World War 1 commemorations next month on the Western Front, marking the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, in Flanders.

The occasion will see the re-burial of five Australians killed in the battle, their bodies “lost” in an unmarked grave until last year.

ORGANISED COMMEMORATIONS

Organised activities around the city of Ieper have been going on since the date of commencement of the great battle in July; it continued for more than three months.

The first Thursday in October (4.10.07) will be the beginning of a weekend period set aside for the Australians and New Zealanders.

The Governor General, Maj. Gen. Michael Jeffery, will commence his duties at the interment of the five Australian soldiers whose remains were found together last September near the town of Zonnebeke – by a plumber digging a drain.

The area is littered with many undiscovered battlefield graves; sad finds are being made every year.

Two of the Australians have now been identified through DNA testing; they were from Nanango in Queensland and Boulder in Western Australia.

Later in the commemorative weekend, visitors will be invited to follow a newly-constructed walkway, from Zonnebeke to the Broonsinde Ridge, site of Tyne Cot military cemetery; the cemetery overlooks the object of the battle, Passchendaele village.

Australian Divisions advanced along the route followed by the walkway, at the time a disused railway line, to capture the ridge.

In 2007 there’ll be some dining, following Australian cuisine; re-enactments, and concerts.

BATTLE OF PASSCHENDAELE

The Battle of Passchendaele, an unsuccessful advance by the allies from Ieper towards the Channel coast, became one of the worst of the First World War.

The heavy toll on human life was recounted in a polemic by Geoffrey Miller against the British High Command of that time, seen as spendthrift with the lives of young soldiers:-

“Passchendaele cost over half a million lives over its three months. The Germans lost about 250,000 lives and the British 300,000 of whom 36,500 were Australian. 90,000 British or Australian bodies were never identified, 42,000 were never recovered; these had been blown to bits or had drowned in the dreadful morass. Many of the drowned were exhausted or wounded men who had slipped or fallen off the duckboards and were unable to escape the filthy, foul-smelling glutinous mud, sinking deeper to their deaths as they struggled.”

Many of the war graves today are those of unrecognisable casualties, marked “Known only to God”.

HISTORY AND PRESERVATION

The relics and memories of the Flanders battlefields, in Belgium, are preserved at a series of city and town museums, as well as at the well-tended cemeteries with their memorial structures and gardens.

At Zonnebeke the museum has a specialist interest in the Australians and New Zealanders and supports on-going research on what happened.

This month the museum announced the identification of the two soldiers found with the others, a year ago.

Extract:

Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917: WWI Passchendaele casualties identified by DNA, 05.09.07.

“Four of the five skeletons were enfolded in blankets, tied up with copper-wire. The human remains of the fifth one were exceptionally well kept, covered with a ‘ground sheet’. Parts of their clothes, footgear and some badges told us their nationality.

“Most of the victims fell at 26 September during the Battle of Polygon Wood and during artillery shelling the following days … Somehow the remains of the 5 Australians were overlooked during the post-war clearance, probably because there was already a road covering their remains …

“Skeleton no. 5 has been identified as Private John Hunter 3504 of the 49th Battalion AIF from Nanago, Queensland. Hunter was a labourer and enlisted on 25 October 1916, but only arrived in mid August 1917 on the Western Front. On 26 September 1917 the 4th Division attacked in the direction of Zonnebeke village, east of Polygon Wood. His baptism of fire was also his death. It is believed in the family that John’s younger brother Jim, serving in the same battalion, helped to bury him.

“A few days after the Battle of Polygon Wood, Sergeant George Calder of the 51st Battalion AIF died on 30 September 1917. This miner from Boulder, Western Australia joined the army on 12 January 1916 and was finally promoted to Sergeant. A year after his death, George’s brother John received a golden ring, scissors, a handkerchief and a fountain pen, all removed from his body. The medals were sent to his mother Janet. George Calder has now been identified as casualty n° 3 …

“The ‘Zonnebeke Five’ will be reburied on 4 October 2007 at Buttes New British Cemetery… The service itself starts at 3.00 p.m. and will be conducted by a detachment of the 51st Battalion, to which one of the casualties belonged…
After the reburial service, Belgian Army coaches will bring the public back to Zonnebeke Chateau grounds, where there is a free remembrance concert of the famous New Zealand classic singer Hayley Westenra, entitled ‘Songs for Passchendaele’…”

Reference:

Geoffrey Miller, “Battle of 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele)”,
http://www.gwpda.org/comment/ypres3.html (20.9.07)

EUAustralia Online: Remembering Passchendaele, 7.7.07

Further information:

Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917: Ieperstraat 5 Zonnebeke 8980 Belgium; 32- 51- 77 04 41; [email protected]

WWI Passchendaele casualties identified by DNA… http://www.passchendaele.be/eng/newsdetail.php?nieuwsid=42 (20.9.07)

Australian Embassy, Brussels: 32- 2 -286 05 11/04. http://www.dfat.gov.au/missions/countries/be.html; [email protected] +
Passchendaele Museum: www.passchendaele.be

3 Responses to “Finding Private Hunter, and Sergeant Calder, and Friends…”

  1. Dugout Says:

    Nothing about the man, Tom Heyman, who discovered the remains during the dig for a gas line. He was the man who had the courage and the respect to stop his digger and report the find. He was later fired by his boss …
    Nothing about Johan Vandewalle, a local WWI expert who uncovered the 5 bodies during a 5 day long dig. He was put in charge of the dig by the head of the Belgian war grave service.

    These men have noting to do with the local museum ,Memorial Museum Passchendaele, but did almost all the work and effort. Pity they are not named in this article, and an other one strikes the honour for the job.

  2. EU Australia Online » Blog Archive » Australian digger identified Says:

    […] The five men were buried with full military honours at Buttes New British Cemetery on 4 October 2007, however Stoney’s headstone was marked as “unknown”. […]

  3. Beth Rose Says:

    I am grateful to both Tom Heyman and Johann Vandewalle for recovering the bodies. One of them was my great uncle (George Calder). I can remember my grandmother (Sgt. Calder’s sister) talking about him when I was a child and I have a letter, sent to his brother John, informing the family of his death. What happened to George was always wondered about and thanks to Tom & Johann and many others, we now know.

    Thanks for your message Beth. You could see also, EUAustralia Online: “Finding Private Hunter, and Sergeant Calder, and Friends”, 21.9.07; “Another Anzac soldier identified …”, 4.7.08; “Australian digger …”, 12.9.08. (Ed.) 

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