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Graves of two Glasgow soldiers rediscovered in Belgium

The rededication services, organised by the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, were held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Dadizeele New British Cemetery, yesterday (25 October 2023) and Tyne Cot Cemetery, today (26 October 2023).

JCCC Caseworker, Rosie Barron said:

It has been a privilege to work with The Royal Regiment of Scotland to organise the rededication service for Pte Keill and to have his niece present. Pte Keill was a young man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. He is still fondly remembered by his family and this service marked the end of their quest to establish what happened to him.

Pte Peter Keill

By October 1918 the static fighting associated with the Western Front, which had kept the British Army in Belgium within the Ypres Salient since 1914, had lifted, and Allied forces were advancing. On 1 October 1918, 7th Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders were in assembly positions in front of the village of Slypskapelle. After a brief barrage, they attacked at 6.15am and reached their first objective, the Menin to Roulers railway line north of Ledeghem.

After further fighting they consolidated in positions along the railway line. The battalion had suffered considerable casualties with 23 killed in action or died of wounds, four missing and 73 wounded. Pte Peter Keill was among these casualties. The location of Pte Keill’s grave was lost, and as he was missing, he was commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Pte Keill’s niece, Mary Lloyd-Jones was in attendance at the service and said:

My mother always talked about her brother Peter, even though she was born two months after his death he was always part of her life and he has been part of mine too. We’re so pleased to see his final resting place recognised, and it’s been an honour for me to be here to see that happen today with my daughter Sian and my sister-in-law Margaret representing Peter’s wider family. We’re so grateful to Rosie from JCCC and Catherine from CWGC for making this happen.

Mary Lloyd-Jones, niece of Pte Peter Keill, stands at Dadizeele New British Cemetery with members of 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (Crown Copyright)

2nd Lt James Ferris

2nd Lt Ferris died in December 1917 while driving the enemy from the Passchendaele Ridge. He had no known grave so, following the war, his name was placed on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

In 1920 the remains of an unknown British Officer, a 2nd Lt of The Highland Light Infantry were buried nearby in the Tyne Cot Cemetery. The regiment and rank were identified from the insignia found on the casualty’s uniform, but there were no other artefacts to indicate his name.

Research has now revealed that Ferris was that unknown British Officer, and a new headstone has been installed above his grave at a ceremony attended by his descendants.

James Ferris’ great-nephew, Ewan, who attended the service said:

Although I never knew Uncle James I know that he was an upstanding man: he had a good job and was a Captain in the Boys Brigade – presumably this led him to join a regiment with direct ties to the Boys Brigade in his home town of Glasgow. I am pleased that we are now able to mark his final resting place and honour his memory.

Ewan Ferris, the great-nephew of 2ndLt James Ferris, stands before his uncle’s grave with members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland (Crown Copyright)

JCCC Caseworker, Alexia Clark said:

I am grateful to the researcher who submitted this case. Their work has led us to recognise the final resting place of James Ferris and restore his name to him. It has been a privilege for me to have contributed to this case and to have organised the service for the rededication of his grave today.

The services were conducted by the Reverend (Captain) David Jeal, Chaplain to 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and were attended by serving soldiers of the battalion.

The Reverend Jeal said:

It was a great honour and immensely important for us to remember and rededicate the graves of 2nd Lt Ferris and Pte Keill, and to give them a place to rest where their names are written and recorded, so that they may be honoured by this generation and all who follow. We owe so much to their selfless sacrifice for our freedom.

The headstones over both graves were replaced by CWGC who will care for them in perpetuity.

Geert Bekaert, Commonwealth War Graves Commission Area Director said:

It is a privilege to now care for the graves of Private Peter Keill and Second Lieutenant James Ferris. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is dedicated to ensuring that these servicemen, who made the ultimate sacrifice, are remembered with the dignity and respect they deserve. Their sacrifice will continue to be honoured by future generations as their names are eternally recorded on their headstones.

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