Battle of the Somme soldier laid to rest with full military honours


A British soldier killed in action in the First World War is being laid to rest with full military honours almost 100 years after he died.

Sergeant David Harkness Blakey, of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was killed aged 26 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

In November 2013 - 97 years after he died - his remains were found during a road widening project near Connaught Cemetery in Thiepval, northern France.

A metal identity tag with 18634 Sgt David Harkness Blakey MM of the R Innis Fus etched on it confirmed his identity, along with the discovery of an R Innis Fus cap badge.

Identifying fallen First World War soldiers is rare as tags were commonly made from paper or compressed fibres, which rapidly decomposed.

Army chiefs said Gateshead-born, married father-of-three Sgt Blakey is only the fifth soldier in 10 years to be identified using personal items.

An appeal to trace his relatives last year resulted in a number being found in the North East, and some family members will attend Connaught Cemetery in Thiepval for the reburial.

Led by the Rev Robert Birnie, padre of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, the service will hear a poem written by Sgt Blakey's father in memory of his son.

Born in Felling, Gateshead, on November 9, 1889 to coal miner Henry Blakey and his second wife Isabella, Sgt Blakey became a miner at Stargate Colliery near Ryton after leaving school.

After marrying Sarah Kendall in October 1908, they settled in her home town of Winlaton. They had a son, Henry, who was killed in service in 1940, and two daughters, Vivian Winifred, and Isabella.

A skilled rugby player, Sgt Blakey enlisted in January 1915 in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, which ran a series of recruitment adverts in the Gateshead press.

By 1916, Sgt Blakey had been promoted to the rank of sergeant, serving with D Company, 11th Battalion.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the battalion formed part of the 109 Brigade of the 36th Ulster Division and assembled at the edge of Thiepval Wood.

Sgt Blakey was among scores who died that day. And in subsequent letters to his wife, it emerged he had last been seen seriously wounded in No Man's Land.

He was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for "bravery in the field", according to a citation in the London Gazette of December 14, 1916.

During a concert organised by the Winlaton Welcome Home Committee in August 1917, the decoration was pinned to the chest of Sgt Blakey's seven-year-old son.