WWI soldiers whose graves were wrongly marked laid to rest with military honours

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Two First World War soldiers whose graves were wrongly marked in a Somme cemetery for more than a century have finally been laid to rest with full military honours.

Privates William Marmon and Harry Carter, both 21, died with six other soldiers when a 15-ton German underground mine exploded on November 22 1915.

Hundreds of tons of earth engulfed the dugout where the pair, of the 10th Battalion the Essex Regiment, were most likely on sentry duty.

Their deaths were marked at the time with named graves and headstones at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's (CWGC) Albert Communal Cemetery Extension in France.

But, thanks to dogged detective work by experts, it emerged a century later that rather than being recovered and buried, the men had lain underground where they fell in the village of La Boisselle.

A clerical error by the War Office 100 years ago is believed to have led to their collective grave being wrongly marked with their names, the archaeological evidence suggests.

On Wednesday, three years after the remains were found, Pte Marmon, from Holborn, central London, and Pte Carter, from West Ham, east London, were buried with full military honours in Albert.

Nine surviving relatives attended the service, which was led by the Rev Richard Priest and organised by the Ministry of Defence's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC).

Pte Marmon's great-nephew, Trevor Newland, 60, from Ilford, north-east London, said: "His bravery is undeniable and although his death was in tragic circumstances, my family have had the opportunity to pay our respects.

"To be here today witnessing this full military funeral in his honour is really humbling. He has laid with his comrade for 100 years and will now do so in peace forever more."

Pte Carter's great nephew, Brian Churchyard, from east London, said: "It is a remarkable story and really does bring home the bravery and sacrifice made by such young men."

Members of the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, successor to the 10th Battalion the Essex Regiment, provided a bearer party for the coffins and fired a salute.

National anthems were sung in British and French after the Last Post was played, a silence observed and wreaths laid at the cemetery where more than 860 First World War casualties are commemorated.

Flag bearers downed their flags as the coffins were lowered, and the Union flags that draped the coffins were folded then handed to relatives.

Mr Priest said: "It is just as important for today's soldiers to know that their comrades are buried with full military honours as it was 100 years ago, and that we honour our fallen from past conflicts."

The discovery of the men's remains came in 2013 after a professional archaeology group, the La Boisselle Study Group (LBSG), formed by Briton Peter Barton, excavated trenches in an area known as the Glory Hole.

The area saw bitter fighting during the First World War, with each side resorting to mine warfare to gain a slim advantage.

Beneath the two-hectare site, which included British, French and German trenches, a field of mine craters and remnants of a farm, was a labyrinth of wartime tunnels.

The remains of the two fully kitted men were found beside their rifles and ammunition, grenades and flares. Small figurines of children were also found in a pouch, along with a bullet carved into a love heart.

According to the battalion's War Diary, the blast that killed Pte Marmon and Pte Carter was of such ferocity that it "filled the dugouts for about 50 yards and completely obliterated the front face".

A file of evidence was sent to the JCCC which used genealogy research to identify and trace the surviving relatives of all eight soldiers reported as being killed.

DNA analysis proved the remains were Pte Marmon and Pte Carter. The inscriptions on the existing grave headstone have been amended.

Steve Brown of the JCCC said: "The commemorative event today is a culmination of detailed work by many organisations to achieve a common goal - the identification and burial of exceptionally brave young men who died serving in arguably the most difficult and dangerous place during the First World War."

The three-week project was complicated early on when LBSG archaeologists also discovered the bodies of two French soldiers killed in early January 1915. Both have since been identified and reburied in France.

Mr Barton said: "We look upon the burials today as a cause not for melancholy but for celebration, because we have finally found, recovered and identified the remains of four young men missing for a century - Charles Marmon and Harry Carter of the 10th Essex and their French comrades Louis Heurt and Apollinaire Ruelland of 118th Infantry Regiment.

"Our commemorations are, however, tempered by an enduring sadness at not having been able to recover the other soldiers, both British and German, whom we know or believe to have been present close by. This evening we shall be raising a glass to them all."

On average, up to 40 soldiers are discovered every year on the former Western Front battlefields. French law dictates that the CWGC be involved when a body is found.

Peter Francis of the CWGC said the commission was "honoured" to care for the men "in perpetuity", and that he had never seen such level of detail about two fallen soldiers.