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Australian Digger – Pvt Storey – Identified

  • September 12th, 2008
  • Posted by Amelia Birnie

Private George Stoney

An Australian World War I soldier has finally been identified 91 years after he was killed, thanks to a DNA test from a relative he never knew.

The Memorial Museum of Passchendaele, in Belgium, has announced that DNA matching a sample taken from the son of the soldier’s brother had identified the digger as Private George Storey.

Pvt Storey’s was one of five bodies salvaged during a WWI battlefield excavation almost two years ago near the Hamlet of Westhoek, near Zonnebeke.

Three of the men have now been identified by means of thorough historical searches and comparative genetic tests on possible descendants at laboratories in both Belgium and Australia.

Those identified earlier were Sergeant George Calder and Private John Hunter; (see EUAustralia, “Another Anzac Soldier Identified in Flanders”, 4.7.08).

The five men were buried with full military honours at Buttes New British Cemetery in October last year, with Storey’s headstone marked “unknown”.

The Passchendaele museum Curator, Franky Bostyn expects the headstone will be replaced later this year and says he’s thrilled with the new discovery.

“The identification of the World War I missing based on historical research and DNA tests constitutes a real scientific breakthrough, opening perspectives towards the future,” Mr Bostyn told EUAustralia Online, this week.

Previous Australian Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Bruce Billson, fully agrees.

At the time of the initial discovery of the five bodies, he said the prospect of identifying each individual soldier was very low, and he’s pleased to see that turn around.

“These men paid the ultimate price while serving the interests of our nation and it is fitting that they can now be laid to rest beside their mates, with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Mr Billson said.

GEORGE STOREY’S STORY

As told by Passchendaele Museum Curator Franky Bostyn

Private George Storey was born in the vicinity of London in approximately 1895 and migrated to Western Australia some years later.

He was working on a farm when he enlisted in the Australian Army in March 1916 with his elder brother Jack.

He was assigned to the 51st battalion with which he moved to the battlefront in France by the end of 1916.

On 9 June 1917 Pvt Storey was wounded during the battle of Messines, but was able to return to his unit by the end of August.

On 26 September 1917 he was involved in combat near Polygon Wood, which was part of the Battle of Passchendaele.

In the following days the Germans tried to recover the terrain lost to the Australians by an extraordinarily heavy artillery barrage.

During this onslaught, Pvt Storey and three others were hit by an exploding shell when leaving their shelter at Westhoek Ridge.

The 22-year-old was killed instantly and eventually moved to a makeshift burial place, which was not entirely cleared after the war.

His personal belongings (two wallets, belt, rifle shot register and photographs) were sent to his mother Hannah.

Pvt Storey’s brother Jack was also badly wounded in the Battle of Passchendaele, but was able to return to Australia in January 1918.

Ninety-one years later, Pvt George Storey will get a designated grave thanks to comparative DNA-tests on Jack’s son David.

Reference:

Memorial Museum Passchendaele, “Third Australian WWI digger’s body found in Belgium identified”, http://www.passchendaele.be, (13.08.2008)

ABC News, “Belgium WWI remains confirmed as Australian”, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2006/11/08/1783380.htm, (08.11.2006)

Picture: Private George Storey, Memorial Museum Passchendaele

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