Lieutenant (Lt) Harold Rymer Smith and Second Lieutenant (2ndLt) Wilfred John Massey Lynch
Lieutenant (Lt) Harold Rymer Smith and Second Lieutenant (2ndLt) Wilfred John Massey Lynch (Picture: MOD)

MOD's war detectives' final honour for WWI officers more than 100 years after their deaths

Lieutenant (Lt) Harold Rymer Smith and Second Lieutenant (2ndLt) Wilfred John Massey Lynch
Lieutenant (Lt) Harold Rymer Smith and Second Lieutenant (2ndLt) Wilfred John Massey Lynch (Picture: MOD)

The graves of two First World War soldiers have finally been marked with headstones more than 100 years after their deaths.

Lieutenant Harold Rymer Smith and Second Lieutenant Wilfred John Massey Lynch were killed during Operation Michael in the last months of the First World War. 

The rededication services were organised by the MOD's War Detectives – officially known as the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC).

Research from the National National Army Museum and JCCC confirmed the finding of the graves. 

The service for Lt Smith was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's (CWGC) Ecoust Military Cemetery near Arras, and 2Lt Lynch's was at Crucifix Corner Cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux, northern France. 

Rosie Barron from the JCCC said: "It has been a privilege to have contributed to the identification of these two officers and to have organised these rededication services.

"Had the German Spring Offensive of 1918, in which they fell, been successful, then the outcome of the First World War could have been very different."

She paid tribute to the two officers, saying: "It is thanks to men such as Lt Smith and 2Lt Massey Lynch, who paid the ultimate sacrifice during such fierce fighting, that the allies were able to stem the German advance and bring the war to a conclusion later that year."

near Arras and at Crucifix Corner Cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux, France  (Picture: MOD)
The rededication ceremonies, one at CWGC's Ecoust Military Cemetery and the other at Crucifix Corner Cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux, northern France (Picture: MOD).

Lt Smith, a member of the 2/6th Battalion The North Staffordshire Regiment, died aged 23 on the first day of Operation Michael.

He died during an attack in Ecoust-Saint-Mein on 21 March 1918.

The officer was buried in a mass grave that was later exhumed in September 1920 and moved to Ecoust Military Cemetery, where he is buried alongside other men from his battalion who were killed that day.

Lt Smith's family attended the service of rededication and gave an emotional tribute to him and his brother, 2Lt Ralph Pritchard Smith, who also died during the Great War.

Sarah Rockliff, Lt Smith's great-niece, said: "We are deeply grateful to all those who helped find our Great Uncle Harold Rymer Smith. 

"This has been profound for our family. Choosing the wording on the headstone and attending the service of rededication allows us to do what Harold's parents and siblings never could.

"This brings peace in our hearts to the family past, present and future," she added.

2Lt Lynch, from West Derby, Liverpool, was only two years older than Lt Smith when he was killed on 4 April 1918 in the latter stages of Operation Michael. 

He was attached to the 3rd Dragoon Guards and died while operating on the right flank of 43rd Brigade, north of the Villers-Bretonneux to Warfusee Road.

The German attack, which aimed to force the British Fourth Army back towards Amiens, northern France, and the First French Army away from its ally, was ultimately unsuccessful as the ground that was needed to launch their attack on Amiens was not taken.

The city remained in Allied hands, and 2Lt Lynch's body was recovered after the war and buried as an unknown officer of 3rd Dragoon Guards in Crucifix Corner Cemetery, in Villers-Bretonneux.

He was commemorated on the Pozières Memorial to the missing, as he was initially reported missing during the war.

"We are honoured to be able to mark the graves of these two brave men with headstones bearing their name at our cemeteries in France this week," said Claire Horton, the director general of the CWGC.

"They paid the ultimate price whilst fighting on the Western Front, more than 100 years ago.

"And now, it is our privilege and duty to care for their graves in perpetuity, along with their comrades," she added. 

Join Our Newsletter


Johnny Mercer praises wounded veterans competing at Veteran Games

MOD investigation after veteran says she was mocked by soldiers over her medals

Ukraine and Russia in escalating race for drone warfare domination