Recovery of remains and possessions of dead soldier has brought people together

When Didier Guerle fulfilled his grandfather’s dying wish and had the fields of his farm searched, he set off a chain of events that brought people together across continents, and one family across generations.

The farmer called in his friend Moise Dilly, an expert in metal detection. Dilly came across something hidden underneath the grass. “I took a spade and I hit a shoe.”

As his grandfather had predicted, beneath the brutal World War I battleground, the remains and possessions of dead soldiers were found, including the silver identity bracelet for British Lt. John Harold Pritchard.

On Tuesday, almost a century after his death in the trenches, Pritchard finally found a proper grave and a ceremonial reburial in neighbouring Ecoust-St. Mein, attended by his family and England’s Prince Michael of Kent. Finally, he was no longer among the ranks of soldiers whose bodies were never found in the carnage of the war.

Pvt. Christopher Douglas Elphick and two unidentified men were buried in the same ceremony, which comes as nations prepare to mark World War I centenary commemorations next year.

Family members of Pritchard, a soldier chorister who performed as a child at the enthronement of British King Edward VII, sang for him at the white gravestone that now marks his memory. Among them was a great niece who used musical scores from his own choir days to study to become a professional singer. The grave is one of tens of thousands dotting northern France.

The sword

Among the crowd at the war cemetery stood Mark Cain, an American collector who came into possession of Pritchard’s ceremonial sword about a dozen years ago. He got in touch with the British armed forces archives about it. When he learned from the archives that Pritchard’s remains had been found, he knew there was only one thing to do -- give the sword back to the family. “The sword has been travelling between continents for 100 years perhaps,” Cain said.Music reunites

For Shell, it was music that reunited the family across a century. As a chorister of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Pritchard has been on a remembrance plaque of the cathedral since 1921. Pritchard left for the war in the first wave of 1914 but came back to England after he was injured twice.

Pritchard was killed on May 15, 1917, in a battle which stopped his watch at midnight. He died in the second battle of Bullecourt on the Hindenburg Line.AP