Capt Thomas Westlake, 5 RIFLES, pays tribute to 2nd Lt Wordsworth CREDIT Crown Copyright / J.Teasdale
Capt Thomas Westlake of 5 RIFLES pays tribute to 2nd Lt Wordsworth (Picture: Crown Copyright/J.Teasdale).
WWI

WW1 soldier honoured in France after identity mystery solved

The remains of 2nd Lt Wordsworth, the great great-nephew of poet William Wordsworth, were discovered in France in 2012.

Capt Thomas Westlake, 5 RIFLES, pays tribute to 2nd Lt Wordsworth CREDIT Crown Copyright / J.Teasdale
Capt Thomas Westlake of 5 RIFLES pays tribute to 2nd Lt Wordsworth (Picture: Crown Copyright/J.Teasdale).

The grave of First World War soldier Second Lieutenant Osmund Bartle Wordsworth, the great, great-nephew of English romantic poet, William Wordsworth, has been rededicated during a service in France. 

The soldier, whose identity has been a mystery since his remains were discovered in 2012 by an archaeologist, was fighting with 21st Company, Machine Gun Corps when he was killed in action on 2 April 1917 trying to assist a struggling gun crew. 

His remains were discovered when an archaeologist working in Hénin-sur-Cojeul, France, recovered the bones of an officer alongside buttons of The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (OBLI) – with whom 2nd Lt Wordsworth had previously served. 

Floral tributes at the grave of 2nd Lt Wordsworth CREDIT Crown Copyright / J.Teasdale
Floral tributes and wreaths at the grave of 2nd Lt Wordsworth (Picture: Crown Copyright / J.Teasdale).

Initial DNA testing did not reveal the identity of the remains and when it was discovered that no officers from OBLI had died where the remains were discovered, 2nd Lt Wordsworth's remains were reburied in September 2015 at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission H.A.C. Cemetery, Écoust-Saint-Mein, France, as an unknown officer. 

Less than a decade later, the UK Ministry of Defence's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the 'MOD War Detectives', reopened the case. 

There are still more than 500,000 men who are missing or unidentified from the First World War. These men were buried where they died in unremarkable, unmarked graves in the midst of battle. 

Civilians and service personnel past and present pay tribute to 2nd Lt Wordsworth CREDIT Crown Copyright/J.Teasdale
Civilians and service personnel past and present pay tribute to 2nd Lt Wordsworth (Picture: Crown Copyright/J.Teasdale).

The MOD War Detectives ascertain the identity of British personnel who were killed in historic campaigns dating back to the First World War by using personal items found with the remains.

They research historical records and use DNA testing, among other techniques, to ensure that the remains of those who made the ultimate sacrifice are honoured and treated with dignity. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns saw the team working from home and having to adjust what they could and could not do away from the office. 

This is when they decided to shift their attention to unsolved cases.

The headstone of 2nd Lt Wordsworth CREDIT Crown Copyright / J.Teasdale
The headstone of 2nd Lt Wordsworth (Picture: Crown Copyright/J.Teasdale).

On further investigation, Rosie Barron, JCCC case lead, found that 2nd Lt Wordsworth had initially been commissioned into the OBLI before transferring to another unit meaning that the infantry soldier had been wearing his former unit's buttons when he died.

She said: "Having made this discovery that no Ox & Bucks LI lay in that area, I turned the focus of my research to the location of the find.

"This was when I discovered that an officer named 2nd Lt Wordsworth had been killed in Hénin-sur-Cojeul on the day the village was recaptured in 1917. 

"It was very exciting for me to have finally identified this man and to give him his name back."

She added: "It is always an honour to organise rededication services such as this. They are the conclusion of a century-old mystery for families such as the Wordsworths."

Civilians and service personnel past and present pay tribute to 2nd Lt Wordsworth CREDIT Crown Copyright/J.Teasdale
Civilians and service personnel past and present pay tribute to 2nd Lt Wordsworth (Picture: Crown Copyright/J.Teasdale).

To ensure the JCCC had discovered the remains of 2nd Lt Wordsworth, the soldier's great-nephew agreed to have his DNA tested. 

The rededication service, organised by the JCCC, did not feature a coffin as 2nd Lt Wordsworth is already buried, but wreaths and flowers were laid in front of a new headstone. 

The rededication service was attended by members of the soldier's extended family, including 2nd Lt Wordsworth's first cousin once removed, Araminta Wordsworth, who had travelled from Canada.

She said: "The identification of Osmund's remains is the result of the combination of happenstance and brilliant detective work. 

"When I read about the discovery just before Remembrance Day last year, I knew I wanted to be present at his rededication service. 

"Now he has been laid to rest more than a century after he was killed, and we can visit his grave."

She added: "This is a rare privilege, as hundreds of thousands of fellow combatants have no known resting place." 

British Army Chaplain Rev Thomas Wilde CF conducts the service for 2nd Lt Wordsworth CREDIT Crown Copyright / J.Teasdale
British Army Chaplain Rev Thomas Wilde CF conducts the service for 2nd Lt Wordsworth (Picture: Crown Copyright/J.Teasdale).

The service was conducted by the Reverend Thomas Wilde CF, Chaplain to 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, and was attended by serving soldiers of 5th Battalion The Rifles and 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment. 

Rev Wilde CF said: "I feel very privileged to conduct the rededication service for 2nd Lt Wordsworth.

"It is important to honour and remember this brave officer for the sacrifice he made on behalf of his country.

"It is very powerful when you add a name to a grave,"  he added.