Following on from my first post (Casualties of War) concerning the circumstances of the death of 6275 GIBBS, William Taylor, I will now outline the connections that made it possible to associate his location with those of three other soldiers:

  1. 6716 BEAR, James William
  2. 6553 O’NEILL, Martin
  3. 1446 WOODBERRY, Thomas Francis

All four of these men are currently listed as having no known grave on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, and this is confirmed by both the Australian War Memorial (AWM) records and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)  (http://www.cwgc.org/). You will note that the CWGC is not mentioned in my list of OSI sources in The Fog of War this is due to the fact that the AWM duplicates these records and there is generally no need to access both.

In BEAR’s Red Cross File it states that one eyewitness “…saw his body, and was standing by when KNOWLES buried him, and about 5 others in a grave close to where they fell”. So this now gives us a critical piece of information which is a total count of men we should find evidence of being together at the time of their death.

When WOODBERRY’s Red Cross File was reviewed the first connection was made was between BEAR and WOODBERRY. It states that  “… he [WOODBERRY] was killed the same time as a man named J.W. Bea?”. The last letter of the original typed message was subsequently crossed out and replaced with the letter “R”. It also gave an additonal clue as to a preexisting relationship in that both men are described as being in “B Coy”, this will prove to be very important later on.

When O’NEILL’s Red Cross File was reviewed, a veritable gold mine of data was obtained. On the very first page it states that “Sgt. Nixon Battn.Pioneers attended to the burial of all these men and should be able to give the details.” What this statement refers to is the note on the top of the page which states that it relates to “O’Neill. M. 6553 (& 4 others, for full list see H.M.Richard’s report)”. The main problem here is that there is no report from H.M Richard’s in O’NEILL’s Red Cross File, however, there is plently of other valuable data.

As it turns out the H.M. Richards report is actually the Red Cross File for 6342 RICHARDS, Henry Mitchell. This file states that Sgt NIXON buried five men all at the same time:

  1. RICHARDS H.M. 6342
  2. HEWISH A. Capt
  3. GODART T.B. Cpl 729
  4. O’NEILL M. 6553
  5. ORCHARD D. 1221

The problem with this report is that it makes no mention of GIBBS, WOODBERRY or BEAR and also that all of the other men listed actually died in France, not Belgium, sometime in May.

Back in O’NEILL’s Red Cross File another statement reports that O’NEILL was in 8th Platoon, another states that he was with with WOODBERRY in a dug-out at the time of his death……wait what was that…..WOODBERRY?!?! In another statement it also confirms this fact and that GIBBS was with both men at the time as well. There are also numerous other statements confirming variations of the above and that GIBBS, O’NEILL and WOODBERRY were all in B Coy.

So now we can start to make a fairly informed judgement that at the very least these four men were within the same vicinity at the time of their deaths and that they were in the same company. The next step would be to try and confirm some of this data with their service records.

continued in Part 2….

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