3 out 5 @ Zonnebeke

Photo: ‘Zonnebeke 5′ graves, Buttes New British Cemetery, Belgium

The following news bulletin has been received from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, Zonnebeke:

On 3 July we announced that the remains of an unknown Australian soldier, killed in September 1917, had been identified. Together with 4 other bodies he was salvaged in September 2006 near the hamlet of Westhoek in Zonnebeke by a team of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917. Two of them could be identified last year by means of thorough historical research and comparative DNA-tests on possible descendants, both carried out in Australia and Belgium. The five Australians were buried with military honours in Buttes New British Cemetery on 4 October 2007 in the presence of among others, the Governor General of Australia, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and family members of the identified Sergeant George Calder and Private John Hunter.
The now identified third casualty is Private George Storey, who was born in the vicinity of London and who migrated to Western Australia, where he worked on a farm. At the end of March 1916 he enlisted and together with his elder brother Jack, he was assigned to the 51st battalion with which he moved to the front in France by the end of 1916. On 9 June 1917 George got wounded during the Battle of Messines, but by the end of August he was able to return to his unit. On 26 September 1917 George was involved in the fighting near Polygon Wood, which was part of the important Battle of Passchendaele. In the following days the Germans tried to recover the terrain lost to the Australians by an extraordinarily heavy artillery barrage. During this, George, together with three others was hit by an exploding shell when leaving his shelter Anzac of Westhoek Ridge. The 22-year old was killed instantaneously and eventually moved to a make-shift burial place, which after the war was not entirely cleared. His personal belongings – two wallets, photographs, belt, and ‘rifle shot register’ – were sent to his mother Hannah. His brother Jack also got badly wounded, but could go back to Australia in January 1918. Ninety one years later, George Storey will get a known grave thanks to comparative DNA-tests on Jack’s son David.
It’s expected that the headstone erected above his remains last year, and carrying the word ‘unknown’ will be replaced still this year. The identification of World War 1 missing based on historical research and DNA-tests constitutes a real scientific breakthrough, opening perspectives towards the future.

DIGGER, the quarterly magazine of the Families and Friends of the First AIF, featured an article in issue 21, by Belgium member Johan Durnez, describing the burial service for the ‘Zonnebeke Five’ in October 2007. To read Johan’s article click on the following link: military-funeral-for-zonnebeke-5

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