Unknown soldier identified at last

Left to right, Phil Richards (musician), Alan Culshaw (RBL Rider), Major (Retd) Pat Ralph (Yorkshire Regiment), Reverend Heather Rendell, Colonel David Moreton (British Embassy, Berlin), Steve Foster (researcher), Cdr Ian Harrop, Bob Jones, Keith Orton (BEL Germany).
Left to right, Phil Richards (musician), Alan Culshaw (RBL Rider), Major (Retd) Pat Ralph (Yorkshire Regiment), Reverend Heather Rendell, Colonel David Moreton (British Embassy, Berlin), Steve Foster (researcher), Cdr Ian Harrop, Bob Jones, Keith Orton (BEL Germany).

A moving ceremony has been held at the last resting place of a North Tyneside soldier who died during the Second World War.

A new headstone was installed and a rededication service held at the grave of Private George Henry Thompson, of the Green Howards, Yorkshire Regiment, at Wittenburg Cemetery, Germany.

Born in Tynemouth, he enlisted in October, 1939, and was sent to France in February, 1940, as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

He was reported missing on June 19, 1940, after being captured at Athies, France, and sent to Stalag XXA, in Poland.

In early 1945, the Germans forced the PoWs to march towards the West, a tortuous undertaking for men already weakened from years of imprisonment in one of the worst winters on record.

Forced to march up to 40 kilometres a day, many succumbed to hypothermia, disease and death. George died near Wittenburg, Germany, on March 3, 1945, aged just 25.

George’s burial place had remained unknown, until the grave of an Unbekampt Englander Soldat (Unknown English Soldier) was found at a civilian cemetery in Wittenburg, where George’s burial place had been noted by a Staff Sergeant Aitken, of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, who kept a list of each man that died on the march and where they were buried.

After exensive historical research by researcher Steve Foster, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that this unknown soldier is Private Thompson.

Steve said: “It was an honour to help find the grave of Private Thompson 70 years after he died in dreadful circumstance.”

The Rev Heather Rendell, Regimental Chaplain at HQ Westfalen Garrison, who led the service, said: ““It was a privilege to give a name to the grave of a soldier that died in conditions that should never happen again.”

A new headstone bearing Private Thompson’s name has been provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who will now care for his final resting place in perpetuity.