ID 162
Title Known Unto God
Broadcast 2011-11-13 00:00:00
Network Radio 4
Presenter Mark Whitaker
Producer Mike Hally
Precis Mark Whitaker recounts the story of the discovery and re-burial of the remains of an unknown soldier from World War 1, one of about two dozen cases a year in France and Belgium.
Duration 14
Txtime 1899-12-30 11:45:00
Description It is almost a hundred years since the 'Great War' of 1914-18 yet still a small number of bodies are uncovered each year on the former battlefields of France and Belgium. Each set of remains is carefully recovered, identified if possible, and given a military funeral in the nearest Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery, attended by representatives of the Commission, the British Embassy and veterans associations.

Mark Whitaker attends the service for one of these soldiers and recounts the story of how the remains were found prior to widening the Canal du Nord near Cambrai in north-eastern France, a key part of the front line during World War 1.

A French archaeologist describes what he found and the care they have to take when there can still be unexploded grenades and shells under such remains. The CWGC Exhumation Officer describes his role and the satisfaction it gives him to be caring for members of his grandfather's generation. Identifying the soldier as a member of the Machine Gun Corps meant that the find was reported to the Ministry of Defence's veterans agency in Gloucester. They in turn involved the regiment's 'Old Comrades Association' whose historian explains how the MGC was formed and why it was known as 'the Suicide Club'.

He is certain the soldier will be one of ten men of the MGC who died in the area but have no known grave. Whitaker visits the Arras Memorial to the Missing where all those ten names are engraved, among over 35,000. But no more precise indentification is possible so the casket is placed in a grave under a headstone that reads "A soldier of the Great War. Machine Gun Corps. Known Unto God."

SqDogNumber 49
Caption1 The padre, Rev John Porter, conducting the funeral service for the reburial of the remains of an unknown soldier of the Machine Gun Corps at Sanders Keep Cemetery in northern France