Missing heroes coming home

TWO local first world war soldiers are believed to be amongst those discovered in a mass grave at Fromelles in northern France after the tragic battle of 1916.

TWO local first world war soldiers are believed to be amongst those discovered in a mass grave at Fromelles in northern France after the tragic battle of 1916.

Herbert Bird, who lived in Ditchingham, and William Knights, of Beccles, may be amongst the men who were hastily interred by German soldiers after the ill-fated battle.

And it is now hoped that experts will be able to recover their bodies, along with 12 other Norfolk and Suffolk men, and give them a hero's burial.

Herbert Bird was 30 when he died, and was part of the well-known Bird family who owned the general stores in Ditchingham.


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His great nephew John Thomson, from Oulton Broad, spoke of his shock at hearing Sgt Bird could be in the newly revealed grave.

Mr Thomson is the grandson of Sgt Bird's brother Charles who himself died of septicaemia two years before Sgt Bird was killed.

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“I think it's wonderful that they have found these men so they can be laid to rest properly at last. It would be awful to think he had to remain there,” he said.

William Knights, who was 24 when he died, came from Puddingmoor, and was the son of William and Harriet Knights. He was a Private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry 2nd/1st Bucks battalion.

The two are amongst 12 soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk and up to 400 British and Australian troops who are now poised to receive hero's burials.

Two of the other soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk were just 19 years old when they were killed, and one was an only son. Another left not only his father behind but a wife. The average age of the 12 was less than 23 and the oldest soldier was 30.

Their mass grave had lain undiscovered beneath farmland after the battle on July 19 1916, which was set up as a tactic to divert German troops from the Somme. It was badly planned, and resulted in heavy losses for the allies, who gained nothing from it.

Australian forces suffered 5,533 casualties in the 24-hour battle, the country's heaviest military casualty rate ever recorded, while Britain recorded 1,547 soldiers killed, wounded or missing.

Members of the public who believe they may be related to British soldiers buried at Fromelles, should contact Historic Casualty Casework on 01452 712 612 extension 6303 or 7330.

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