THE body of a First World War Lancashire Fusilier believed to have connections to Eagley Cricket Club has been buried with full military honours in Belgium.

DAN HOPKINS reports.

THE unknown soldier who could well be from Bolton was buried with two Australian soldiers at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Tyne Cot Cemetery in Flanders.

His body was found covered up in a former shell hole in 2016, having been undiscovered for a century until workmen widening a road discovered the remains.

Among the fallen soldier’s possessions were a pencil for Eagley Cricket Club, along with other items including shoulder titles, boots, a leather belt and a smoker’s pipe.

Investigators from the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre have spent more than a year trying to identify the British soldier.

Geoff Cleworth, President of Eagley Cricket Club, believes he could provide details about the player’s life if he was identified.

“Obviously without a name I can’t tell you who this bloke was, or if he was a good player” he said.

“I do know that 30 ECC players enlisted and 17 were killed during the First World War.

“It sounds like he might have been an Eagley player. But he might have borrowed it off his mate and died with it in his pocket, so it’s important to keep your feet on the ground for things like this.

“It is really interesting and humbling, especially for the body to be discovered close to the centenary.”

Geoff believes he would hold the soldier’s game records, should it ever be confirmed he was a player, as he has compiled a list of records from private research.

The ceremony was attended by Conservative Veterans Minister Tobias Ellwood, himself a former member of the armed forces.

Mr Ellwood said: “We owe these soldiers a debt of gratitude for their sacrifice and it is fitting that we can at last give them a deserved military burial.

“As we approach the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, it is a poignant and timely reminder of the bravery of our Armed Forces. Throughout our country’s history, they have given everything to keep us safe, and continue to do so today at home and abroad.”

It is believed the three soldiers were killed during the Battle of Passchendaele in Ypres at some point between July and November 1917.

The battle between the Allies and the German Empire saw hundreds of thousands of casualties.

With thousands of soldiers from the war still unaccounted for, the JCC works regularly on identifying remains when they are discovered in mainland Europe.

The ceremony in Belgium was attended by dignitaries, representatives from the regiment and crowds of members of the public.

The British soldier’s coffin was draped in a Union flag with a wreath of poppies laid on top alongside a belt and hat of the regiment.

After hymns, prayers and music, readings were given by dignitaries and a firing salute was conducted by the Royal Regiment and the Australian Army.

Research suggests the British soldier may have been killed on October 9, 1917, when he was aged between 23 and 29 while fighting in the Battle of Passchendaele which took place 101 years ago between July and November 1917.

Each year the remains of around 40 British soldiers who died in the First World War are found on battlefields in Europe and the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) — which is based at the cemetery and organised the ceremony — tries to identify them.

Tracey Bowers, of the JCCC, said the pencil was a “unique” find which alongside the shoulder titles suggested his links to Lancashire. But despite extensive investigations looking into the history of the regiment, battalion war diaries, cricket club records and DNA, his identity has never been confirmed.

Ms Bowers said there was a “wide pool” of people to research as on the day in question over 200 Lancashire Fusiliers were killed who still have no known grave. She said: “We will continue with our research, we will look through the regimental diaries and war diaries to see if we can narrow it down.”

If we can, we will go out to families and take DNA and hopefully identify him.”

The Third Battle of Ypres lasted 105 days and came at the cost of an estimated 500,000 casualties.

The bodies of 42,000 were never found.

Four battalions of the regiment were in the area during the later stages of the conflict, specifically during clashes in Poelcapelle which began on October 9, 1917 in a quagmire due to heavy rain.

The Lancashire Fusiliers existed from 1688 to 1968 before amalgamating with others to form what is now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The regiment ended the First World War with 18 Victoria Crosses, more than any other in the British Army.

Captain Alexander Edmund, 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of the Fusiliers, who took part in the ceremony, said: “In one sense it’s sad, we obviously don’t know his identity but we know he was a member of our regiment and he is part of our story.

“It’s sad his family couldn’t be here but his army family are here and the hope is ultimately he will be identified.”

Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans Tobias Ellwood, who was among dignitaries paying their respects, said trying to identify soldiers and remembering the sacrifice they made was vital in helping future generations understand the conflict.

He said: “It’s so important that we say thank you to that individual for the sacrifice that he made in defending our values a hundred years ago.

“It’s so moving to be at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

“It places in perspective the scale of the sacrifice that was made 100 years ago. These numbers are almost too profound to understand.”

Two thirds of the cemetery’s 12,000 headstones do not have names on while the wall surrounding it has 34,000 names of people who are still missing, he said.