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First World War soldier to be allowed a headstone

10 January 2020

TIM HEATON/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

The site of the demolished church of Holy Rood, Bagworth

The site of the demolished church of Holy Rood, Bagworth

THE Consistory Court of Leicester diocese granted a faculty authorising the erection of a memorial headstone to a First World War soldier, Sergeant Linford, who died on 18 June 1918 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of the now demolished church of Holy Rood, Bagworth.

The petition for the faculty was made by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (“the Commission”), the successor in title to the Imperial War Graves Commission, which was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1917 for the acquisition and holding of land for the purpose of cemeteries for those “who shall have fallen in the present War”, and “to make provision for the care of all graves of officers or men of our said forces who shall have fallen in the present war and may be buried elsewhere than in such cemeteries as aforesaid”.

The word “fallen” was given a widened meaning in the definition section of the Charter, and included those who “died from wounds inflicted, accident occurring or disease contracted, while on active service, whether on land or sea”.

Little was known of Sergeant Linford. He seemed to have no traceable relations, although the advertisement of the present petition could result in some coming forward. The military records showed that he was discharged from his regiment on 13 July 1917, suffering from an illness which originated from active service in Arras, and the illness resulted in his death. The Bagworth funeral register recorded that he was buried on 22 June 1918 with a “military funeral”.

Chancellor Mark Blackett-Ord said that it was clear that the Commission had power to make provision for the care of a grave of a person who was not actually killed in the war but died of a disease contracted while on active service.

The difficulty in the case was that, although Sergeant Linford was evidently buried in the churchyard, no record of the position of his burial had survived, and no notification of the burial was passed to the Commission by the service authority. That state of affairs was discovered by the Commission only recently, and it made an application to install a “standard War pattern headstone in the churchyard with the superscription ‘buried elsewhere in this Churchyard’.”

In the period of the First World War, a burial without a memorial was common, and memorials were an exception. Sergeant Linford was not the only deceased person lying in the churchyard in an unmarked grave. The question that troubled the Consistory Court was whether, 100 years later, Sergeant Linford should be awarded a memorial stone whereas others were not.

The purpose of a memorial stone was partly by way of commemoration and partly to identify where the body was laid. Here, it was not known where the body was laid, the Chancellor said, and that undermined half the purpose of erecting a memorial at all.

The Chancellor, however, was influenced by the support for the Commission’s petition from both the PCC and the DAC. “Although the Commission might seem to be extending their power under the Charter to its very limits by offering a memorial stone to one who was not ‘killed’ but died of a disease acquired in France, and whose actual burial place cannot be found”, the Chancellor said, he was satisfied that that “did not take the Commission beyond the strict limits of its purposes as declared in its Charter”. Therefore, the petition was granted.

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