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Clues in clerics’ DNA

14 February 2014


DESCENDANTS of two Victorian clerics could hold clues to identifying a young British subaltern killed on the Western Front in 1917.

His remains were discovered in a cottage garden in June 2012, after heavy rain exposed a shallow grave in the village of Beaurains, near Arras, in northern France. The region was the scene of heavy fighting during a British offensive in the spring of 1917.

An Army team has narrowed the soldier's identity down to one of four officers from the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, all killed on 3 May 1917, whose bodies were never recovered. They are searching for family members to donate DNA to determine whose are the remains.

Two of the officers - Second Lieutenant John Legge Bulmer, aged 22, and Second Lieutenant Charles Croke Harper, 36 - were the sons of clergymen.

Bulmer's parents were the Revd Edward and Elizabeth Bulmer of Filey, North Yorkshire. He was head boy at Marlborough College, and won a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, where he studied from 1913 to 1915. His father was at St Cuthbert's, York, in the 1880s.

Harper was the son of the Revd Edward Harper, Rector of St Lawrence's, Broughton, near Newport Pagnell, and his wife, Frances.

"It's a process of elimination," Lynne Gammond, from the Army team, said. "We know these four people were in that area on that day, at that time; and they were lost, and nobody else was. The officer attrition rate was pretty horrendous. We don't know much about the circumstances of their deaths.

"At the time, bodies were generally marked where they fell, and would later be put in proper graves, but it wasn't always possible.

"Once the remains have been identified, the current successor regiment to the Ox and Bucks [now The Rifles] will be asked to bury the remains with full military honours in a Commonwealth War Grave nearest to where they were found."

The two other officers were Lieutenant Stanley Ashman, from Weston-super-Mare, and Second Lieutenant William Charles Haynes, from Aylesbury.

Anyone who could help trace the relatives should phone Lynne Gammond on 07769 887707, or 03067 701322, or email her at lynne.gammond453@mod.uk.

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