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Sheffield soldier of the Great War laid to rest 105 years after his death

A young soldier who died on the Western Front during World War 1 has finally been laid to rest just yards from where he was found.

Private (Pte) Herbert Greaves, a 28-year-old who served with 6th Battalion The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), was buried with full military honours at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension, near Arras in France on Thursday (3 November).

The service was organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’ and supported by 5th Battalion The Rifles who bore his coffin.

Pte Greaves’ remains were uncovered in 2019 during maintenance work on the footpath outside the CWGC cemetery where they had laid for 102 years.

Pte Greaves was born in Walkley, Sheffield, in 1889. He was married to Jane and they had a son, who was also named Herbert, and a daughter, also Jane.

Pte Greaves has 3 surviving grandchildren. They had not seen each other since the death of their grandmother nearly 60 years ago. It was only after the chance discovery of their grandfather’s remains that they were put back in touch with each other by JCCC. One of Pte Greaves’ grandson’s, David Dickson, attended the burial service along with his family.

David Dickson, grandson of Pte Greaves said:

Elated is the word I’d use; when our son read out the email from Rosie Barron at JCCC to say they had actually discovered the remains of our grandfather, it was quite emotional. He suddenly became a real person to us. We managed to connect with our cousin whom we hadn’t seen for many years, who did the DNA test. He managed to find a photo of our grandfather amongst his father’s papers so we could put a face to the name. We were quite excited at the prospect of attending the burial service with full military honours at Henninel Communal Cemetery Extension.

Private Greaves' grandson, David Dickson, stands at the graveside with his wife June and sons Lee and Simon.

Rosie Barron, JCCC said:

Pte Greaves remained missing for over 100 years, although he lay just metres from the entrance to Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension. Having come so close to having a known grave, in the heat of war, he became lost. He now rests amongst his comrades and his story is complete. Although not all of Pte Greaves’ grandchildren were able to attend his burial service, it has been a privilege to meet them and to have played a part in solving the mystery surrounding their grandfather’s death.

Pte Greaves joined The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry following the outbreak of World War 1. He initially served with 2nd Battalion, was wounded in September 1916 and at some stage he transferred to 6th Battalion. He died on 15 May 1917 during the Battle of Arras.

How Pte Greaves was identified

Based on the location of the find, JCCC determined it was most likely the remains belonged to a soldier of 6th Battalion KOYLI. The soldier had been bandaged, so it was considered likely that he had been wounded and treated prior to his death.

Further research found that although 6th Battalion were in the line east of Heninel between 6 and 15 May 1917, on 10 May their position in the line had changed, when they took over positions in the line further south. They remained in these new positions until being relieved on 15 May.

When their positions changed, so did their medical evacuation chain. From 10 May 1917, they began to use the crossroads north of Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension, known as ‘Hairpin Bend’ as a loading post for ambulances. JCCC found it likely he had been wounded after that date, been treated in the line and then brought to Hairpin Bend to be placed on an ambulance for evacuation. He may then have died there and been left at Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension for burial.

Once the remains had been linked with 6th Battalion KOYLI, and a likely casualty identified, relatives were traced and DNA testing against the remains was carried out by the JCCC contractor. This confirmed the identity of this casualty as Private Herbert Greaves.

Private Greaves' coffin is carried into Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension. His remains were discovered during work on the track outside the cemetery in 2019.

The service was conducted by the Reverend Martin Robbins CF, Chaplain to 9 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps. The Reverend Robbins said:

Private Greaves is just one of many young men and women who answered the call of the nation in its time of need. He typifies the selfless commitment of his generation who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the way of life of others whom he would never know. To that end it is only fitting and right that we lay him to rest alongside his brothers in arms, with the dignity and respect he deserves. I feel incredibly honoured to be asked to do this on behalf of his family and fellow service men and women, who continue in the that same service of selfless commitment, protecting our nation and its way of life.

The grave will now be marked by a headstone provided by the CWGC, who will care for his final resting place in perpetuity. Director for the France Area at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Xavier Puppinck, said:

Pte Greaves paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for his country 105 years ago. It is our honour to be part of today’s ceremony to lay this brave man to rest, and to renew our commitment to remember him and his fallen comrades.


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