28 March 2018

Grave of First World War soldier identified 100 years after his death

A rededication service was held yesterday (Tuesday) for a First World War serjeant who died 100 years ago this week.

Rededication service for Serjeant John Mackenzie MM & Bar at Anneux British Cemetery. Photos courtesy of Danielle Roubroeks

Serjeant John Mackenzie MM & Bar, of C Company, 1st/6th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, was just 21-years-old when he died on 25 March 1918, a few days after the start of the German Spring Offensive.

The service at Anneux British Cemetery in France was attended by members of John’s family including his great nephew, Ken MacDonald and his wife Kath whose research led to the discovery of his grave, as well as members of The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

The CWGC provided the headstone, which was engraved with a personal inscription chosen by his family: “God has taken you from our home but never from our hearts”.

John was described as a “singularly brave and intrepid soldier”, receiving the Military Medal twice as well as the Croix de Guerre.

Having been wounded, John was taken prisoner and died of his wounds in Inchy-en-Artois. Until recently the location of his grave remained unknown and he was commemorated on the Arras Memorial, however after painstaking research Ken discovered the location of his grave.

Further research by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) was undertaken to corroborate the evidence the family provided and the identification of the ‘Unknown Soldier’ grave at Anneux British Cemetery was confirmed to be that of Serjeant John MacKenzie MM.

Ken said: “Since my wife and I visited France 22 years ago and saw John’s name on the Arras Memorial, we have never given up hope of finding his grave. It feels today like one of my three Great Uncles has come home. We’re very grateful to the MOD’s JCCC and CWGC for arranging the rededication service, and to the relatives of other Seaforth Highlanders who joined us for the service.”

During the service, John’s brothers Private Kenneth MacKenzie and Lance Corporal Donald MacKenzie, both of the Cameron Highlanders, who were also killed during the Great War and who still have no known grave, were also remembered.

The CWGC’s Mel Donnelly said: “100 years after he was killed, Serjeant MacKenzie’s grave in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Anneux British Cemetery is now marked with a headstone bearing his name. He was a brave young man who made the ultimate sacrifice and we are honoured to be able to rededicate his grave today. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensure that all those who served and fell are commemorated by name and we will care for his grave and the memorials on which his two brothers are commemorated, in perpetuity.”

Burial service for an unknown First World War soldier at Bailleul Road East Cemetery. Photos courtesy of Danielle Roubroeks

Earlier in the day, a burial service was held at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, St. Laurent-Blagny, France, for a soldier of the First World War.

The remains of a soldier of the Royal Scots were discovered by a team of workmen near the village of Athies. Given the location of where the remains were found it is a possibility that this soldier was killed during the Battle of Arras in April 1917. However, there are too many soldiers of the Royal Scots missing from that battle to identify this soldier.

The service was attended by British Defence Staff, regimental representatives from The Royal Regiment of Scotland and local dignitaries. The CWGC provided the headstone and will care for his grave in perpetuity.

Both services organised by the JCCC, were led by Reverend Paul van Sittert CF, Chaplain.

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