continued from Part 1…..

In my previous blog the pieces of the puzzle were staring to fall together in relation to connecting the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four men:

  1. 6716 BEAR, James William
  2. 6553 O’NEILL, Martin
  3. 1446 WOODBERRY, Thomas Francis
  4. 6275 GIBBS, William Taylor

The next step was to review their service records for supporting, or new, data and to really confirm the connections described in the Red Cross Files.

We know that GIBBS’ service record provided us with a fantastically accurate account of his burial location “Buried at J.9.A.5.9. 1300 yards S.W. of Zonnebeke 1300 yards S.W. of Gheluvelds Near Polygon Wood, Belgium”. It is now time to determine if the other three have similar burial records in their files.

In BEAR’s service record a similar mistake was made as in GIBBS’ in that his place of death is initially record as France the subsequently updated to reflect Belgium:

BEAR, James William - Service Record entry

BEAR, James William - Service Record entry

His service record also had the same “Buried” entry record as did GIBBS:

BEAR, James William - Service Record entry

BEAR, James William - Service Record entry

Then to top all that off a description of this physical burial location is also included in his service record:

BEAR, James William - Service Record entry

BEAR, James William - Service Record entry

This however is where a bit of a stumbling block occurs. BEAR’s burial location is described as “Buried at J.5.A.3.9.” which is also described as being “…near the village of Molenaarelsthoek, 1000 yards S.E. of Zonnebeke, Belgium”. So whilst this is in the same general area of operations there is little chance that BEAR was killed alongside the other three men.

BEAR, James William - Service Record entry

BEAR, James William - Service Record entry

O’NEILL’s Service Record on the other hand proved to contain data that supported his burial location as being the same as GIBBS. As with GIBBS’ record the same entry showing France as the placed of death, subsequently replaced with Belgium:

ONEILL, Martin - Service Record entry

ONEILL, Martin - Service Record entry

There was not however any indication of the “Buried” reference as in the other two service records. There were however copies of cablegrams and correspondence stating O’NEILL was “Buried at Anzac Ridge …. Sheet 28 N.E.J.9.A.5.9.”:

ONEILL, Martin - Service Record entry

ONEILL, Martin - Service Record entry

ONEILL, Martin - Service Record entry

ONEILL, Martin - Service Record entry

So, even though the geographic reference is different to GIBBS’ the map reference is identical. When you actuall drill down to this level of detail on a trench map you can be left in little doubt that both GIBBS and ONEILL are buried very close together.

Okay, so at this point I decided to try and identify this location on a map. The MacMaster University Libraries website has an amazing assortment of high-resolution trench maps from various time periods during World War 1. The following map is a screenshot sourced from here:

Sheet 28

Sheet 28

If we concentrate on the top left hand square of “9”, it is the “A” referenced in the burial locations. For those of you who have visited this area will know that it is the location of the famous Anzac Cafe. This location will be investigated in a later blog entry.

Now onto WOODBERRY’s service record. Unfortunatly there is no direct reference to burial location other than the “Buried” notation as with GIBBS’:

WOODBERRY, Thomas Francis - Service Record entry

WOODBERRY, Thomas Francis - Service Record entry

Also as with GIBBS’ the mistake of the death location being record as France, and being changed to Belgium is also evident.

WOODBERRY, Thomas Francis - Service Record entry

WOODBERRY, Thomas Francis - Service Record entry

So with this being the case we must rely on the eyewitness statements in the red cross files to prove the connection between WOODBERRY and the other three men.

Conclusions:

  1. GIBBS, O’NEILL, WOODBERRY were killed on 4 October 1917 and were together at the time of their death.
  2. BEAR was killed on 4 October 1917 but appears to have been in a different location than those mentioned in point 1.
  3. Both GIBBS and O’NEILL have their burial locations specifically noted as being J.9.A.5.9. which is located on Trench Map Sheet 28 and is in close proximity to Polygon Wood.
  4. BEAR has his burial location stated as J.5.A.3.9. which is in close proximity to the village of Molenaarelsthoek (now Molenaarelst).
  5. All four men were in “B Coy” and ‘VIII” (8th) Platoon at the time of their death, and were not part of the same reinforcement units.
  6. GIBBS, O”NEILL, WOODBERRY were stated (in red cross records) as being part of a Lewis Gun team, which typically only constituted three men.
  7. All four men have no know burial location and are listed on the Menin Gate Memorial.
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