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93 years later, WWI soldier buried

The Australian Federation Guard carried the coffin of Private Alan James Mather for his reburial in Ploegsteert, Belgium. The Australian Federation Guard carried the coffin of Private Alan James Mather for his reburial in Ploegsteert, Belgium. (Matthew Busch/Associated Press)
By Associated Press
July 23, 2010

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PLOEGSTEERT, Belgium — A ceremonial guard fired three volleys into the sky yesterday as a final salute for Private Alan James Mather of Australia, who was buried 93 years after he fell in Flanders Fields during World War I.

The remains of the soldier, who died in the Battle of Messines on June 8, 1917, were recently unearthed by a British archeological group. The service was attended by members of the Mather family, including his 86-year-old nephew, John.

The archeologists recovered the remains in August 2008, along with his personal effects. He was still clutching his rifle, and in his knapsack he had a German helmet, a souvenir often picked up by soldiers of the time.

Martin Brown, a member of the group that excavated the site, said Mather was not wearing his own helmet. “That was a bad idea, perhaps,’’ Brown said. Instead, he wore an army slouch hat, a common practice among soldiers that identified them instantly as Australians.

Identification of the body was completed this year after DNA tests were performed by the Belgian Institute of Criminology.

Mather, who was 37 when he died, volunteered for the army from a farm in Invernell, New South Wales. He served in the 33d Infantry Battalion.

Belgium’s Flanders region saw some of the fiercest and bloodiest trench warfare on the Western Front during the war.

Some 150 war cemeteries dot the region, and scholars believe 100,000 soldiers remain unaccounted for almost a century after the end of one of the bloodiest wars ever fought in Europe. Hundreds of WWI remains are discovered each year.

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