A Cross-in-Hand man attended a moving ceremony in France where his grandfather - killed in a World War I battle - was finally laid to rest.
Christopher Elphick, of Sheepsetting Lane, travelled to Arras in northern France where the remains of two soldiers were interred almost a century after they were killed in action.
Private Christopher Elphick and Lieutenant John Pritchard, from The Honourable Artillery Company, were buried with full military honours in the HAC cemetery at Ecoust-St-Mein. More than 300 people attended the ceremony, including Prince Michael of Kent in his capacity as HAC royal honorary colonel.
Christopher Elphick said: “I can’t praise the way the event was handled highly enough. It was a wonderful and moving ceremony. The cemetery itself is immaculate - with grass like a bowling green. The occasion was extraordinary - conducted with great dignity and solemnity.”
He explained that his grandfather had been reported ‘missing, presumed dead’ after being killed in action at the battle of Bellecourt on May 15, 1917. The remains were found in 2009 by a farmer, Didier Guerle, along with those of two other unidentified HAC soldiers.
Guerle has never ploughed the field but unearthed one of the soldier’s gas canisters, then dug deeper to remove it, finding the remains. Pritchard was identified by a silver identity bracelet and Elphick by a gold signet ring that bears his initials, but it took three years to trace their relatives. The two further sets of remains were interred at the same time as ‘HAC soldiers known unto God.’
The soldiers’ coffins were draped in the union flag and carried by bearer parties with the regimental forage cap, belt and wreath on top, accompanied by the HAC band.
A military firing party fired a salute during the service. The families were presented with the flag covering the coffins as well as Elphick’s ring.
Christopher Elphick was born in Dulwich, south London, in 1889 and attended Alleyn’s School before becoming an insurance company clerk and joining the HAC in 1916.
When he died he left a widow and newborn son, Ronald Douglas, born in August 1916.
Ronald did not know his father but made a point of keeping his memory alive for his two sons, Christopher (named after his father) and Martin, who both travelled to France for the burial.
Ronald died in 2000, having served in World War II. Christopher’s 13-year-old son, Daniel - a pupil at Heathfield Community College - took part in the ceremony.