On Saturday 21st April I took part in the Rededication of two headstones for two Australian soldiers of the Great War. This took place as part of the cycle of ANZAC commemorations in Ypres. The ceremony took place in Menin Road South Military cemetery and the service was attended by representatives of Ypres Town, the CWGC and the Last Post Association who laid wreaths at the graves. Their Service Records were read aloud, the Last Post was sounded and the Australian Defence Force singers performed songs of remembrance. Many local residents of Ypres came to witness the rededication service. When I talked to them afterwards they told me that they felt that they had a duty to be there.
In the Rededication service we recognised and identified the graves of:
2869 PTE Cecil Henry Burns (46th Battalion, 1st AIF) and
29927 DVR Henry Martin Comerford (5th Field Artillery Brigade, 1st AIF).
PTE Cecil Henry Burns was born in 1892 in Singleton, New South Wales; the son of George and Fanny Burns. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Rutherford, New South Wales on 16 October 1916. At the time he was 24 years old, gave his occupation as a farmer, and was 5 ft 10 ½ ins tall with a fair complexion, blues eyes and brown hair.
DVR Henry Martin Comerford was born in 1890 in Mintaro, South Australia; the son of John and Ellen Comerford. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Adelaide on 11 March 1916. At the time he was 26 years and 6 months old, gave his occupation as a blacksmith and was 5 ft 8 ins tall with a fair complexion, grey eyes and red hair.
The project to identify unknown soldiers of the Australian Commonwealth military forces has been promoted by Major Andrew Coburn of the Australian Embassy in Paris. He offered his thanks to Mr Dennis Franks and Andrew Pittaway from the Fallen Diggers Association. Without their passion and research the identification of the final resting place of many Australian soldiers across the Western Front would not be known.
He writes: “By unveiling and rededicating these headstones, we not only ensure that two Australian soldiers may know peace, but we also keep faith with the more than 18,000 Australian soldiers who died in Belgium and France during the First World War and who have no known grave. The tributes laid today not only pay homage to the sacrifice and final resting places of these soldiers, but to all unknown soldiers buried in this cemetery and in the many others across Belgium.”
A reflective verse was read from a poem by the Australian poet Dame Mary Gilmore.
...They are not dead: not even broken,
Only their dust has gone back home to the earth
For they, the essential they, shall have rebirth
Whenever a word of them is spoken.
As Chaplain of St George’s Memorial Church I was honoured to be invited to pray for the fallen and to bless their new headstones:
Until recently this grave of a fallen soldier had a headstone that read – “An Unknown Soldier of the Australian Field Artillery.”
Today we have come together to name and honour the memories of Private Cecil Henry Burns and Driver Henry Martin Comerford, to commend them to God and dedicate their final resting places. We remember with thanksgiving how they answered the call of their nation, served with honour and gave their lives in the service of others.
Let us pray: Remember O Lord, all those the brave and true, who have died the death of honour and are departed in the hope of resurrection to eternal life, especially those members of the 46th Battalion and the 5th Field Artillery Brigade who gave their lives in the Great War. In that place of light, where sorrow and mourning are far banished, give them rest. And to us who remain on earth, give the spirit of happiness and the peace which comes from being one in Thee; until that time comes when we meet together in your kingdom and death is swallowed up in victory. May they find peace in your presence, rest from their labours and rise to eternal life through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen