Soldiers laid to rest more than a century since they fell in Battle of Loos

Private William Johnston, of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and an unidentified East Yorkshire Regiment soldier were buried at the Loos British Cemetery.

Dan Barker
Thursday 05 May 2022 12:59
A bearer party from the Royal Regiment of Scotland carry the coffin of Private William Johnston as he is buried with full military honours at Loos British Cemetery, Loos-en-Gohelle, France (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A bearer party from the Royal Regiment of Scotland carry the coffin of Private William Johnston as he is buried with full military honours at Loos British Cemetery, Loos-en-Gohelle, France (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Two British soldiers killed during the Battle of Loos have finally been laid to rest with full military honours more than a century after they died.

Private William Johnston, of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and an unidentified soldier who served in the East Yorkshire Regiment were buried on Thursday at the Loos British Cemetery in France.

The service was led by the Reverend Dave Jeal, chaplain to 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, and bearer parties were provided by the Yorkshire Regiment and the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

The coffin of the unknown soldier of the East Yorkshire Regiment is buried at Loos British Cemetery (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The two soldiers were killed on September 26, 1915, during the largest British attack of the year, and their remains were not discovered until 2018.

The remains of Pte Johnston, who was 39 when he died, were found during routine First World War ordinance surveys at a hospital building site in Lens.

Nicola Nash, of the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, said: “We were lucky with Johnston because he was actually discovered with a spoon that had his service number on it. So we were able to look at that service number and link it with Johnston.

“Looking through historical documents, it also confirmed that the regiment was in the area when he was killed.”

Records showed he was the only casualty with the number who did not have a known burial place.

A spoon and a pocket watch which belonged to Private William Johnston and were found alongside his remains (MoD/A Eden/Crown Copyright/PA)

Sharon Williamson, his great-great-niece, was then contacted by the MoD unit, known as the war detectives.

They asked for a DNA sample from her, which confirmed his identity.

The 48-year-old, of County Armagh, said: “It really brings ‘Lest we forget’ right into people’s faces, and that over a 100 years ago that these men are not forgotten about and they’re given the respect and the military burial that they deserve. It really brings home that these people can never be forgotten.”

She added she heard his name being read out every year as it is on a local war memorial in Richhill.

She added: “We knew of the name but we didn’t know of the story, we didn’t know where he died, we didn’t know when he died, we didn’t know what age he was.”

Sharon Williamson, the great-great niece of Private William Johnston, attended the burial (Gareth Fuller/PA)

But the identity, and the story, of his fellow soldier in the East Yorkshire Regiment remains a mystery.

He was found wearing two East Yorkshire Regiment shoulder titles.

The war diaries of his regiment confirm that on September 26, 1915, they were in the location where his remains were recovered.

On that day the regiment suffered heavy causalities from machine gun fire, having launched an attack the previous day.

Between September 25 and 27, the regiment lost 15 officers and 266 other ranks, making it impossible for the war detectives to identify the soldier by name.

The Loos British Cemetery was begun by the Canadian Corps in July 1917 for casualties from the Battle of Hill 70. The remainder of the cemetery was formed after the Armistice.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in