The grave of an unknown New Zealand army officer buried in Belgium has finally been resolved after 103 years.
The grave, number IE20, at the New British Cemetery at Dochy Farm, has now been confirmed as the final resting place of Captain Ernest Charles Parry of the First Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment.
He was killed on October 6, 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele.
Captain Parry, who was from Paeroa, is commemorated on the New Zealand Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing but so far has no known graves.
He will finally get a gravestone, but his name will remain on the Tyne Cot Memorial as it is the policy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that the names not be removed once they have been carved into the memorial.
Captain Parry’s grave has been confirmed by careful examination of historical material by New Zealand Defense Force historians after a first case presented by foreign researchers.
NZDF historian Matthew Buck said the identification was based on two key sources.
“We had a few pages added to his battalion’s war diary and a letter from one of his comrades published in the Ohinemuri Gazette in 1917. “
He said it was unlikely that either would have been found without the recent digitization programs carried out by Archives New Zealand and the National Library.
The NZDF team found evidence that the bodies of Captain Parry and Sergeant Donald McLean were found close to each other on the battlefield by other members of their battalion.
He said it looked like the bodies had been buried together on the battlefield and when they were collected for re-burial at Dochy Farm Cemetery, the Graves Concentration Unit was only able to identify Staff Sgt. McLean and an unknown New Zealand captain.
Buck said before it could be confirmed as Parry’s grave they had to clear it was not the grave of four other New Zealand infantry captains killed in the same area that had no location. of known rest.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission said Captain Parry was the first successful identification case for a New Zealand victim it was aware of.
There are 6,290 New Zealanders who served in World War I who have no known graves.
Captain Parry had two young sons. Both served in the Royal New Zealand Airforce during World War II.
One of them, Flight Sgt Joseph Parry, was killed on active duty while flying with RAF 99 Squadron on September 29, 1941. He has no known grave.
Buck believes other graves of unknown New Zealand soldiers killed in World War I could possibly be identified.
He said their descendants often had the missing clues.
“Letters and things like those sent from the front lines to families by comrades of men who have been killed and which often end up containing vital clues, and as they emerge over the years . There is reasonable optimism that this will not be a unique case. “
Buck said confirmation of the grave came after five years of careful research by many people.
“If we get it wrong another family will be the loser and on top of that we are also aware in doing this work that the impact of these tragedies on families has been very significant and could have cascading effects in fact. all of which we keep in mind when looking at cases like this. “