Grave of a Worcestershire Soldier Identified in Belguim
The rededication service, organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Perth Cemetery (China Wall), near Ypres, Belgium today (22 March ‘23).
Sjt Cubberley’s then unidentified remains were buried in 2017, and among those in attendance was Rosie Barron, a JCCC caseworker at her first JCCC service. Rosie, disappointed the remains had not been given a name, spent some of the intervening five year period investigating the case.
“After a conversation with Belgian archaeologist, Simon Verdegem, in 2021, I began to reinvestigate the case from scratch. Simon was able to give me more detail about the location where the soldier was found. This was crucial to the identification. We are now very pleased to have given Sjt Cubberley his name back, a regular soldier whose family had devoted their lives to service in The Worcestershire Regiment. His story is now complete, and it has been a privilege to organise this rededication service and to remember Sjt Cubberley today.”
In 2012 the remains of a soldier were found during the laying of a pipeline near Waterstraat. He bore the buttons and shoulder title of The Worcestershire Regiment, and a crown indicating he may have been a serjeant major. However, after unsuccessful DNA testing, the casualty was buried as an unknown soldier of The Worcestershire Regiment on 6 September 2017.
Then, during the Covid-19 pandemic, which restricted JCCC’s ability to deliver services abroad, the team reviewed ‘cold cases’ where DNA had been taken but no match found.
It was then that Rosie Barron, confirmed that 2nd Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment was at the location where the unknown remains were found between 24 and 28 September 1917. Although there were no missing serjeant majors of the battalion killed during that period, there were three missing serjeants. The families of all three men were asked to share DNA, and John Cubberley, the great nephew of Sjt Cubberley, proved to be a match.
John Cubberley said:
“It fills me with great pride that I have the name Cubberley and I will always be eternally grateful for that. Words cannot express my gratitude to JCCC who have gone beyond the call of duty on my family’s behalf leading to the identification of Serjeant Cubberley’s grave. My Grandfather I am sure is more at peace knowing his brother has been found. My thanks to the MOD for continuing to find our lost family members who went to ‘fight the good fight, who kept the faith and finished the race’ and to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.”
The service was conducted by the Reverend Daniel Njuguna CF, Chaplain to 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment and was attended by serving and retired members of The Mercian Regiment.
The Reverend Njuguna said:
“Today marks a milestone in the story of the life of Sjt William Clay Cubberley. His final resting place shall no longer be unknown; thanks for the dedication of JCCC and all those involved. What a privilege to be here to witness, recognise and express on behalf of many our gratitude for the service and sacrifice of Sjt Cubberley.”
Initially serving with 1st Battalion, Sjt Cubberley transferred to 2nd Battalion during the First World War. It is believed that although Sjt Cubberley is not recorded as having been promoted to Company Serjeant Major, he may have been promoted in the field and died before any record of this was made.
On 24 September 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres had already been raging for nearly two months. 2nd Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment took over the line near Veldhoek in preparation for an attack to be made on 26 September. The following day they were heavily shelled, and the Germans attacked. The attack was successfully repulsed in the section of the line held by 2nd Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment. At 05:30hrs on 26 September, the day of Sjt Cubberley’s death, the Germans redoubled their bombardment making several direct hits of the roof of Battalion HQ in Inverness Copse. The battalion War Diaries record that ‘To carry on in the open under such a fire was impossible. The whole ground was churned up, even the bodies of the killed soon disappeared.’ The shelling made evacuation of the wounded impossible and for 24 hours stretcher bearers were unable to evacuate the wounded.
At the last hour the plans for the attack were changed and owing to their heavy losses, 2nd Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment provided only supporting fire for the attack. They were relieved on the night of 27 to 28 September 1917. Around 55 men of the battalion lost their lives during their time in the line. Of these 48 men are still missing and are commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
Director General of the CWGC, Claire Horton, said: “We are immensely grateful to the War Detectives and to Mr Verdegem, and to all those who have worked with us, in identifying Sjt Cubberley’s final resting place at Perth Cemetery (China Wall), more than a century after his death. We can now mark this brave man’s grave with a headstone bearing his name. This service of re-dedication gives us an opportunity to renew our commitment to care for his grave and those of his comrades, forever.”