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Search on for fallen soldiers’ graves

MANY of the soldiers killed during the First World War have been buried in graves unknown.

While this is obviously not ideal, circumstances at the time meant that often there was no other choice.

Most of the soldiers killed were in infantry battalions which meant they were fighting either in trenches or in farming areas where paddocks were ploughed for planting or after harvesting.

Many of the battles also featured heavy artillery shelling from both British and German forces, ensuring the ground on which the soldiers fought and died was full of craters.

Add rain to the equation and the ploughed fields became dangerous bogs where fallen men could be buried unceremoniously in the mud and slush. Often they drowned in the mud.

FALLEN: Kyogle man Pte Alfred Webber who died in 1917 during the Battle of Messines.
FALLEN: Kyogle man Pte Alfred Webber who died in 1917 during the Battle of Messines.

During battle stretcher bearers worked in terrible conditions trying to bring in the wounded and they did not have time to attend to the dead soldiers, although dog tags were often removed so that some record of a death was kept.

While the graves of many fallen soldiers remain unknown, several memorials listing the names of those soldiers have been erected.

One of the biggest of these memorials is in the French village of Villers-Bretonneux and listed among the names are many Australians.

While the war is long gone, mass graves continue to be found with one of the more recent famous finds at Fromelles in northern France.

The Richmond River Historical Society has a special interest in the soldiers who died at Messines, the site of a major battle in 1917.

The society's interest has been sparked by the efforts of a Belgian gentleman who has taken an interest in men buried at Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

He recently contacted the society seeking information about any local soldiers buried there and whether we can locate any relatives still living in this area.

The society has already identified eight local men who died in 1917.

Frederick William Abbott (Alstonville), Henry Fredrick Leon Howard Deards (Uki), Herbert William Harley (Lismore), George Alfred Platt and his brother William Josiah Platt (both from Casino), Walter Snell (Murwillumbah), John Stevenson (Lismore) and Alfred Webber (Kyogle) are all thought to have been buried there.

Apparently a special service is to be held at the cemetery in 2017 and it is hoped that any relatives who can be found will attend.

Relatives of some of the men have been contacted but it is hoped that others can be identified.

If you know anyone who might be able to assist it would be appreciated, especially by the people in Belgium who are organising the commemoration.

There are possibly more soldiers from the region buried at the Messines cemetery and the search for information will continue.

Sometimes the information about burial sites changes, even in the official records.

One of the above soldiers, Alfred Webber, was originally listed as being buried at Messines Ridge but some records indicate he was buried at Toronto Avenue Cemetery, Ploegsteert.

The society however believes he was buried in Messines Ridge Cemetery as, in his record states that he died at Messines, not at Ploegsteert Wood.

These areas are all so close together that it is sometimes very confusing. Anyone who has information concerning a local soldier possibly buried at Messines Ridge is requested to contact the society.

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