Christopher Elphick, grandson of Private Elphick, being presented with the flag that covered his grandfather’s coffin by Prince Michael of Kent [Picture: Corporal Steve Blake, Crown copyright]
The remains of 2 First World War soldiers have finally been laid to rest nearly 100 years after they were killed in action.
Lieutenant John Harold Pritchard and Private Christopher Douglas Elphick, both of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), were buried yesterday, 23 April, with full military honours at the HAC Cemetery in Ecoust-St Mein, near Arras in France, just 2 miles from where they fell in Bullecourt, next to the Hindenburg Line.
Their remains were found where they died in battle, along with 2 other unidentified HAC soldiers, in 2009 by elderly farmer Didier Guerle who unearthed one of the soldiers’ gas canisters. He dug a little deeper to remove the canister and discovered the soldiers’ remains.
It took 3 years however to trace the named soldiers’ relatives after they were identified by Lieutenant Pritchard’s silver identity bracelet and Private Elphick’s gold signet ring bearing his initials.
The families of both soldiers, together with His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, the Royal Honorary Colonel of the HAC, were at the funeral.
Lieutenant Pritchard, who survived the Battle of the Somme and a gunshot wound to the neck, was killed alongside Private Elphick when their battalion was attacked in the early hours of 15 May 1917 during the Second Battle of Bullecourt.
The area was fought over for several months, and the bodies were lost for nearly 10 decades until the chance discovery.
Lieutenant Pritchard never married, but Private Elphick left a widow and newborn son Ronald Douglas, who was born in August 1916. Ronald never knew his father but kept his memory alive for his 2 sons – Christopher, named after his grandfather, and Martin, who travelled to France for the burial with their families.
Martin Elphick said:
We were never expecting him to be found, so being here has brought back a lot of emotions and sadness that my grandmother and father aren’t still here to feel the honour that is being given to my grandfather. It would have been the closing of the circle for them.
Also making the journey to France were the nephew and great-nieces of Lieutenant Pritchard, who like the Elphick family, were brought up with stories of their fallen relative.
Eighty-nine-year-old John Harold Shell, son of one of Lieutenant Pritchard’s sisters, remembers his mother and her sisters talking about their lost brother:
My mother and her sisters used to talk about him in front of me, and even as a very small boy I was aware of the great sense of loss they felt. I can’t help but think what they would have felt if they could be here, and stood in the field where their brother was killed.
It makes being here all the more moving, more so than I thought it would, because I know what effect it had on them.
The remains were reinterred with full military honours, carried by 2 bearer parties with a military firing party, and accompanied by the HAC Band. As is tradition, the respective families were presented with the flags covering the coffins, but were also given Lieutenant Pritchard’s identity bracelet and Private Elphick’s signet ring.