The remains of a World War I soldier, who is believed to be from a County Longford family, are to be buried at a Belgian military cemetery not far from the battlefield site where his body was discovered, writes Patrick Conboy.
Although the remains are thought to be of Private James Rowan, the son of a Longford man who emigrated to England, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom said he will be buried as an unknown soldier because no definite link can be established with potential living relatives, despite a number of people from the county coming forward after an appeal was issued last year.
“We have taken DNA samples from the remains, so if we can make a definite link in future we can change the name on the headstone,” Lynne Gammond, a press officer for British Army Headquarters, told the Longford Leader.
The remains were one of six sets discovered in the Belgian village of Comines-Warneton five years ago, and Ms Gammond explained that the bodies of World War I soldiers are found on a regular basis in areas where battles took place.
“It’s not unusual for remains to be discovered during agricultural or construction work, or when heavy rain washes away soil,” she said. “Sometimes they can be identified by a cap badge or dog tag.”
Ms Gammond went on to say there were also other means of narrowing down the possible identity of unearthed remains.
“When they’re discovered at a certain spot, we can look at regimental war diaries to see where the unit was on a certain date, which can be a useful indicator as some will have lists of casualties.”
Pte Rowan served with the Lancashire Fusiliers and he was killed in action sometime between October 20 and 27, 1914. His suspected remains will be interred at Prowse Point Commonwealth Wargraves Commission Cemetery on Thursday, April 16, along with those of five other unidentified men. They will be accorded full military honours at a ceremony presided over by a military chaplain, and a rifle party will be present to perform a three-volley salute. Their headstones will carry the inscription, ‘A soldier of the Great War, known unto God’.