2nd Lt. Eric Henderson (Copyright Henderson family)

Army Officer Killed In WW1 Finally Laid To Rest

The officer died on the first day of the Battle of Messines and was buried during a ceremony in Belgium.

2nd Lt. Eric Henderson (Copyright Henderson family)

Cover Image Copyright: Henderson Family

A British Army officer who died on the first day of the Battle of Messines during the First World War has been buried during a ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Oak Dump Cemetery, near Ypres in Belgium.

Second Lieutenant Eric Henderson served with the 8th (City of London) London Regiment ‘Post Office Rifles’ and was soon commissioned as an officer after joining as a Private in 1915.

He was killed in action on 7 June 1917 aged 21-years-old, near the village of Messines in West Flanders, Belgium.

A century later he was discovered during roadworks in the area of Eekhofstraat, near Voormezele.

He was found with several artefacts including a silver coin that was engraved with ‘2nd Lt Eric Henderson, London Regiment’.

The discovered silver coin with the engraving ‘2nd Lt. Eric Henderson, London Regiment’ (Copyright CWGC)

The service was organised by the MoD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC).

She said:

"It’s a great honour to be here today to lay this brave man to rest, who fought so courageously alongside his comrades.

"I am particularly grateful that Eric’s family were able to be here to witness him being finally laid to rest after so many years.

“Although over 100 years have passed since Eric’s death, we passionately believe in continuing to honour his sacrifice and the sacrifice of all members of the Armed Forces who are lost in battle.”

Further research, conducted by the JCCC, showed that the location of the soldier was exactly where the Oak Reserve Line was during the Battle of Messines, which corresponded with the location of Eric’s regiment on the day of his death.

An aerial photograph of Messines before the battle
An aerial photograph of Messines prior to the battle.

The beginning of the Battle of Messines was signalled by the explosion of 19 mines that had been laid under German lines.

The shock of the explosion was overwhelming and devastating to the enemy.

The objectives of the Post Office Rifles on the day were to capture portions of the four lines known as Oak Trench, Oak Support, Oak Reserve and Oak Switch as well as a formidable strongpoint known as the ‘Dammstrasse’.

Many of the causalities of the Battalion were due to machine-gun fire from the White Chateau, one of the objectives of the 7th Battalion.

2nd Lt. Henderson’s great nieces (l to r) Judith Leyman, Sarah Foot and Lucy Cocup stand with the Royal Artillery Regiment and military representatives (Crown Copyright)
2nd Lt. Henderson’s great nieces (left to right) Judith Leyman, Sarah Foot and Lucy Cocup stand with the Royal Artillery Regiment and military representatives (Crown Copyright)

Family members who paid their respects to 2nd Lt Henderson included his three great-nieces, Lucy Cocup, Sarah Foot and Judith Leyman, as well as members of their own families.

Mrs Judith Leyman, Eric's great niece, said on behalf of the family:

"Being here in Ypres, and knowing Eric's resting place, means an awful lot to us. He wasn't a dusty memory in our family, but part of our mental landscape.”

Sub Lieutenant Harry Lewis from the British Embassy in The Hague was also in attendance.

Current members of the Royal Artillery Regiment paid their own tribute by providing the bearer and firing party.

Mel Donnelly, CWGC Commemorations Manager said: “For almost a century, 2nd Lt Eric Henderson was remembered with honour on the CWGC’s Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial to the Missing – one of tens of thousands of young men whom the fortune of war denied a known grave.

"When the memorial was unveiled in 1927, the assembled mourners were told ‘He is not missing. He is here’.

"Today, thanks to the efforts of many, that statement has new meaning for Eric and his family."

The Royal Artillery Regiment bearer party ceremonially fold the Union Flag during the service (Crown Copyright)