"Lost" Field Graves


In the 40,000 documents we have photographed so far in the Dutch archives, there are also a number of documents in which it is mentioned that a soldier has been found, either washed up on the shore, found in a river, or on the battlefield whose name was known and as such has been given a field grave.
However, after the war, it appears that the grave or body can no longer be found or it is not known where the body may have been reburied.
In the following article I would like to highlight some of the issues, as it is strange that this person is still now booked with the Commonwealth War Grave Commission as being missing.
Starting with 23 year old Lieutenant Cyril Arthur Welch from Herne Hill, London, assigned Easy Surrey Regiment, but stationed with C Company the 5th Battalion Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry, army number 311510 as being platoon commander his family received a telegram that he was killed in or near Nijmegen, but never heard back after that. His name is on Panel 4 on the Groesbeek Memorial, at the Canadian Military Cemetery in Groesbeek.
The War Dairy of the unit indicates that on 6 October 1944, around 12.30, the attack would be launched south of Opheusden. By 16.00 they had only reached halfway through the village. It was not until 19.25 that the Battalion was relieved by Americans of the 101st Airborne Division.
The Battalion had suffered the necessary losses, Lieutenant Welch, was killed, also 10 men were killed, 4 officers were wounded, 56 men were wounded and another 8 men were missing.
Documents from the Kesteren municipal archives, show that there was evidence that Lieutenant Welch was buried in or near the Opheusden cemetery. A letter from the Mayor of April 1946, indicates that 10 soldiers are buried in the Municipality of Kesteren, 6 of which the names were known at the time, of 4 of them the field grave location was known but no names, Lieutenant Welch name is not mentioned in the letter.
A letter dated July 18, 1947 from the Mayor of Kesteren to the 90 Grave Concentration Unit does contain 10 names, of which today 3 are still missing, and 1 name and registration number cannot be traced, which could mean that this one was buried as unknown because the data found on his body, did not belong to him. In this letter the mayor says that all were picked up by the British graves service and taken away, however, he does not know the date this happened and to which cemetery.
On investigation it appears that 6 are buried in (3) Oosterbeek War Cemetery, (1) Uden War Cemetery (2), Margraten US Cemetery. Private Alfred William Penwill buried at Oosterbeek was first reburied as an unknown and not identified until 1987.
It is therefore possible that the other 3 unknowns were also reburied at Oosterbeek War Cemetery, however, since Americans were also buried there and both burial services have done research, it is also possible that they ended up elsewhere.


Why these 3 were not identified as such after reburial is a mystery, especially since the two letters show that the names were known to the mayor, and one would think that the items through which identification could take place had been transferred to the English or American graves service.


Another missing soldier who also appears on the Opheusden/Kesteren list is 42-year-old Sapper Roland Edward Bourner Army number E/41530, 4 Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Engineers missing since Saturday, April 7, 1945. Originating from Danville, Quebec. In He came from a family with 5 brothers and 4 sisters. Enlisted on August 20, 1942 in Quebec, arrived in England on August 14, 1944, and a day later took a boat to France.
On April 7, 1945, on a 365-foot pontoon bridge called "Melville Bridge" in the Rhine near Emmerich, he had to keep an eye out for large pieces of debris hitting the pontoons so they would damage the bridge. Around 08.00 in the morning he reported there together with Sapper Tysick, who had to control the traffic. Around 12.00 the platoon left the bridge except for 4 men, Lieutenant McNulthy, Sergeant Bolroz and Sappers Tysick and Bourner stayed behind until they would be relieved by other platoon members.
Between 12.00 and 12.20 Lieutenant McNulthy who was standing on the west side talking to Sapper Tysick, saw Sapper Roland Bourner, still standing on the middle of the bridge. At 12.40 they came to relieve Sapper Tysick and Sapper Bourner for lunch, not much later Lieutenant MacNulthy was relieved by Sergeant Bolroz so he could have lunch. On his return he saw that all posts on the bridge were occupied so he assumed that everyone had been relieved.
However around 5.30pm inquiries were made as to where he had gone as he had not reported to Roll Call, all members of his platoon were questioned but no one had seen him yet.
Sapper Pardoski who had relieved Bourner around 12.40 was questioned, he said that when he took up his position again on the middle of the bridge he had not seen Sapper Bourner.
After an investigation on April 13, it is assumed that Sapper Roland Edward Bourner who has a good record did not desert, but that he somehow fell off the bridge and drowned, perhaps when he was trying to keep debris away from the pontoons.
According to the witness, the river was flowing at about 5.5km per hour. A letter to his father also explains that it was not a case of desertion, but a tragic accident.                 
Unfortunately it is not possible to find out when he was found, but from the documents we can conclude that Sapper Bourner, was later found some 45-50 kilometers upstream near Opheusden.
However, like Lieutenant Welch, after the date of July 18, 1947 it is not possible to find out where he was taken to and buried.
Was he later reburied as an unknown Canadian soldier in one of the Canadian military cemeteries in the Netherlands?
At the cemetery in Opheusden there are 2 unknown soldiers buried with the date of death on September 23, 1944, probably a fallen Airborne, the other is from October 8, 1944, once called Canadian R. Robinson, this is however changed to unknown soldier. According to the website of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission there is also nobody with the name R. Robinson missing on this date.
At the cemetery in Oosterbeek are also 2 unknowns, from Opheusden, 1 of them died on 6 October 1944, of the other no date is known.
Also at the military cemetery in Uden lies another unknown soldier, originating from Opheusden, but this one was killed in October 1944. On the stone it says that he belonged to the Royal Armoured Corps, which could mean that he belonged to a Reconnaissance Unit, or an Armored Unit.


Private Denis Haggerty, age 23, from Holborn, London, son of James and Maude Haggerty, army number 6460125, 10 Platoon, C. Company, 156 Parachute Battalion. Killed on September 20, 1944, on or near the Wolfhezerweg in Wolfheze. He was found at the end of the Wolfhezerweg (direction Oosterbeek) and buried in the cemetery of the Psychiatric Institution by Wolfhezen resident Murk Driezum.
Identified by his identification plates and his Army Paybook, they were given by him to one of the doctors of the institution, Doctor Mulder, but he lost them during the evacuation. And in this way the "proof" that he was the one buried there also disappeared. To make things even more complicated, during the excavation of the grave on August 27, 1945, something was found on the remains that at first it was assumed that this was Sergeant Joe Conlon, also from 10 Platoon, B Company, 156 Parachute Battalion. However, upon inquiry it was discovered that this soldier had been treated as a wounded man in the hospital at the facility, but that he had subsequently been transported as a prisoner of war and had later returned to England. The unknown soldier was buried at Oosterbeek in grave 6.D.13

Although some people from Wolfhezen knew who this soldier was, this information probably did not reach the English Graves Service, or because the "evidence" was lost, the information was not accepted.
On 7 May 1984 the former grave was opened by the Dutch Graves Service, because after investigation and inquiries it appeared that Murk Driezum (visiting Wolfheze from Tasmania in July 1983) had buried a British soldier in September 1944 next to the mass grave of the civilians killed on 17 September in the cemetery of the Psychiatric Institution, and that he had given the plaque and pocket book to Doctor Mulder. Murk from Driezum had joined the evacuation to Nijkerk on September 27, 1944 and did not return after the war and left for Australia.
After opening the former field grave it appeared that it was empty except for some bones of a forearm and a riddled helmet.

One can therefore assume that the unknown soldier in grave 6.D.13 at the Oosterbeek cemetery is that of Denis Haggerty, however, during the excavation in August 1945, there is no excavation report made, or this for some reason did not reach the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, there are no dental records of this soldier, and because the graves are not opened there can be no positive identification. In 1984 DNA was not yet ready to trace relatives in order to give DNA and to compare it with the found bone remains, otherwise one might have been able to determine in this way that it was indeed Denis Haggerty.