The great-great-niece of a soldier who died in the Battle of Loos more than a century ago has said she hopes more families will be able to see their war hero relatives identified and given the burial they deserve.
The remains of Private William Johnston, of the 7th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, were laid to rest on Thursday at the Loos British Cemetery in France with full military honours.
Sharon Williamson, 48, Pte Johnston’s great-great-niece, watched as members of the Royal Regiment of Scotland lowered his remains into their final resting place at the cemetery.
She said: “Once we found out he was our relative, we couldn’t miss this opportunity to be here to say thank-you and pay our final respects to a family member that we didn’t know. We just wanted to be here so he wasn’t alone on his final journey.
“Every Remembrance Day his name was called out, so we knew of the name but we didn’t know of the story.
“We didn’t know where he died, we didn’t know when he died, we didn’t know what age he was. So it’s really when you start to look at your family tree, that these things start to come up. And that’s when the story started to come alive.”
Ms Williamson, of County Armagh, praised the work of the MoD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, which identified his remains thanks to a spoon found nearby and a sample of her DNA.
She added: “It brings ‘Lest we forget’ right into people’s faces, and that over a 100 years ago these men are not forgotten about and they’re given the respect and the military burial that they deserve. It brings home that these people can never be forgotten.
“There’s so many more out there and we hope that families like us will be able to put a name to them, and have the same ceremony that we have had today.”
Pte Johnston’s remains were discovered on January 1 2018, during a routine survey of the site in Lens for leftover shells and bombs when a new hospital was being built.
The Battle of Loos took place from September 25 to October 8 1915. It was the biggest British attack of the year, and the front lines ran through the hospital site his remains were discovered at in 2018.