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Dundee Soldier Buried With Military Honours

A World War 1 soldier from Dundee who was identified in part through possible tartan fragments and a thistle brooch, has finally been laid to rest with full military honours.

More than a century after his death, Private (Pte) David Valentine Gemmell, who served with The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), was buried at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC), Woburn Abbey yesterday 15 May 2024.

The service was organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’.

In 2019 two casualties were recovered by the CWGC following a call from a farmer in the village of Cuinchy who had been ploughing his field and discovered what he thought could be WW1 casualties. The remains were close to the recovery site of a casualty JCCC has earlier identified as a Lance Corporal from 1st Battalion Black Watch killed on 25 January 1915.

Research focused on the period between 25 January and 6 February 1915 when the British front line was approximately at the recovery location. The artefacts confirmed the casualties were British and, although none identified a regiment, some suggested a Scottish connection, a link to The Black Watch – including pieces of possible tartan, a thistle brooch – and possible previous military service.

Tracey Bowers, MOD War Detectives’ case lead said:

The presence of a spoon with the service number 3800 was of great help and enabled us to narrow down the list of candidates. We always have to be mindful; a spoon found near a casualty doesn’t always mean they were the owner. In this case, following DNA we were able to confirm the identity of 3800 Pte Gemmell who was killed on 25 January.

Due to the number of artefacts found alongside the two casualties it is possible they were either sleeping in a dugout or holding the line. The weather and conditions in January 1915 were known to be cold, wet and very difficult for the infantry soldiers who were trying to hold the advancing enemy.

Despite DNA testing the second casualty has not yet been identified but research and genealogy is on-going.

The Gemmell family said:

It is both a privilege and honour to be here today to see our Grandfather and Great Grandfather buried. A beautifully emotional occasion we were here not just to remember Private Gemmell but the unknown soldier alongside him. We would like to thank all those involved in particular the Regiment, 3 Scots, JCCC and the local community.

Major Patrick Marshall (3 Scots) presents the flag to Pte Gemmell's grandchildren (Crown Copyright)

Reverend Geoffrey Berry CF, Chaplain to The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland said:

Reveille, the traditional bugle call for the bearer party to return to work is also the ringing call to their colleague Private David Gemmell who they have just lowered, to rise in glory into the presence of the Lord.

The grave of Pte David Gemmell will now be cared for in perpetuity by CWGC.

The military party and other invited guests stand with the family of Pte Gemmell (Crown Copyright)

Xavier Puppinck, France Area Director CWGC, said:

We are profoundly privileged to stand here today, united in reverence as Private (Pte) David Valentine Gemmell is laid to rest. His selfless sacrifice and unwavering service are forever etched in the annals of history and in the sacred stones of the Commonwealth War Graves Woburn Abbey Cemetery. May his legacy endure under our unwavering care and commitment.

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