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Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery Case #4: Private Nairn #S/43045


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The cemetery at Templeux-le-Guerard is turning up a wide array of very strange cases and I am not even half-way through the COG-BR documents. It appears there may be more, so I have started to number them:

  1. Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery Case #1: South Irish Horse
  2. Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery Case #2: Serjeant, Royal Munster Fusiliers - Daniel Sheehan
  3. Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery Case #3: Capt. with Pte. Willis at Ronssoy Woods
  4. Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery Case #4: Private Nairn #S/43045 (this case)


There is something very wrong with this case, or I am missing something that was obvious to those 100 years ago.


If you look at the second grave from the bottom on COGBR-2052738 you will see that a set of remains were found at 62c.F.20 550N 950E which translates into 62c.F.20.c.1.9 (550 yards north and 950 yards east of the origin of the 62c.F.20 sector). That places the remains on the southwest edge of Ronssoy, to the east of Ste. Emilie. It is very clear that a disc was found for a man of the Royal Highlanders and that the disc was marked S43045. He was reported as an "Unknown Scotch Soldier". The Medal Card clearly matches this to Private J. Nairn of the Royal Highlanders.




It would be completely logical to ask why they did not mark the grave at Plot 1 Row B Grave 17 as that of Private Nairn? The COG-BR above also suggests that there was some indication that he might be in Plot 1 Row B Grave 37, so we need to look at both, and sure enough he appears on both and both are stroked out. Remember, this lad was identifiable by a recovered identity disc with his number some time around the time of 14 July 1919 (10 months after his death).






If this is so obvious, then why does the CWGC report that Private J. Nairn S/43045 is buried in Plot 1 Row E Grave 9 at the Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery, Villers-Faucon? If we check that out we find that those set of remains were recovered in a different location at 62c.F.25.a.3.4 which places him almost due south of Ste. Emilie, approximately 1,500 yards southwest of where the remains were found on a body identified as a Royal Highlander with identity disc S/43045. Unless I have not translated the odd trench map coordinates correctly, I take the location where these remains were found to be 62c.F.25.a.15.35 (62c.F.25 150 yards east and 850 yards north of the origin). He was identified by a CROSS (the other was by IDENTITY DISC) that stated the remains were those of Private J. Nairm of the 11th or 14th Royal Highlanders (not clear numeral). The date is given as 10 September 1918. Although not shown below, that agrees with what is recorded on GRRF 2044419.




The war diary (page 16 of 51) of the 14th Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) in a trench running east and west through 62c.F.13.d and 62c.F.14.c&d, as well as a trench running north and sought through 62c.F.20.a&b. This is the area where the remains were found, identified by an identity disc, at 62c.F.20.c.1.9, which is within the trench on the northeast of Eslainvillers Wood. That is, as noted above, some 1,400 yards northeast of where the body was found that was marked with a cross.


I thought for a moment that the GRU may have found the body at the initial location and buried it 1,500 yards to the southwest. But they did not, as the body still shows as being in the other cemetery. This man cannot be in three (3) locations! If his grave is not properly recorded, how many of the others on the COG-BR shown immediately above are also wrong? They found an identity disc exactly where the man was located when he fell. I would suggest that is compelling evidence that he is in the Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery and not in the Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery.

Edited by laughton
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This is fascinating and top notch work, I wish I could help with this but I'm having enough trouble tracking down my own burial (well, my man's burial!)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for the kind comments! If you are seeking assistance finding your man, let me know if I can be of assistance.


I am going through my list of cases (on blog list) to sort them into their categories. This one is rather unique, however it is not the first case where I have suspected that the CWGC has the wrong man. How the CWGC would handle these, I have no idea. I suspect they will say that they can not question what was decided 100 years ago. It would probably take more work to reverse a decision than to simply identify an unknown.


During my current review, I also noticed that the COG-BR 2052738 posted above changed for grave 1.B.15 from Pte. Duncan #203406 to Private Munro #203406 when it was recorded on the GRRF 2052534. You will notice, like the case of Private J. Nairn S/43045, that the regiment also changed from the "6th Royal Highlanders" to the "14th (Fife and Forfar Yeomanry) Bn. Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)". Is it coincidental that was the same unit in which Private Nairn served as well? There are 77 men with that designation listed by the CWGC (this link). One of those is a Private Duncan #S/16513, killed a week earlier and buried in the Fins New British Cemetery. The records (COG-BR 2001087) shows his remains were recovered at 62c.C.16.c.2.3 close to the others but not exact.


The same applies to Private Dawson #345959 shown in grave 1.B.18. His record at the CWGC reveals a second version of the concentration report (COG-BR 2052714) that provides the trench map coordinates in the standard form - and different from what I had calculated above. THey appear now as 62c.F.20.d.9.7 (I had suggested 62c.F.20.c.1.9). I will have to try and fin out whether that was a new report or the yardage calculations are incorrect? Regardless, they did not change any of the other details on that COG-BR but apparently "checked" them as all correct.


The details of Munro and Dawson lend credible support to the fact that they had recovered a number of men of the "14th (Fife and Forfar Yeomanry) Bn. Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)", including Private Nairn #S/43045. I see from another topic here on the GWF that the history is available for free download. I was trying to find an image that would tell me why the GRU interpreted them as Scottish. The FFY uniforms do not appear to fit that pattern, unless they changed to Highlander kit when they became the 14th Battalion?




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  • 1 month later...

A possible source of the confusion may rest in the names of the cemeteries and the degree of concentrations that took place. As the CWGC would insist, we have to assume at the start that the people who did this work in the 1920's and/or 1930's knew what they were doing and had these all sorted out.


Of primary importance is the fact that there were two cemeteries that had the same name (says the CWGC) and apparently both existed at the same time in the past:

  1. The original Ste. Emilie British Cemetery was located on the grounds of the Chateau in the middle of the community of Ste. Emilie at 62c.E.24.b.8.9 (COG-BR 2052784).
  2. The new Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery, Villers-Faucon is located south of Ste. Emilie at 62c.E.24.c.7.7 (COG-BR 2044507) or at 62c.E.24.c.8.4 (GRRF 2044428).

It the CWGC documents, there is reference to the concentration of graves from the original Ste. Emilie British Cemetery to both the Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery and the newer Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery (which dropped the "British" reference). Here is what the CWGC says:

  • Templeux-le-Guerard

    After the Armistice, a further 360 graves were brought in from the battlefields (of April 1917 and March and September 1918) surrounding the village and in 1930, the British graves from the following two cemeteries were brought in:- GOUY BRITISH CEMETERY (Aisne), was in the hamlet of Rue-Neuve (or Rue-du-Moulin), on the road from Gouy to Estrees. It stood in a paddock among pasture fields, close to a farmhouse. It was made by the 50th Division (as very recently reconstituted) in October 1918, and it contained the graves of 127 soldiers from the United Kingdom (almost all from that Division) and one from Australia; the dates of death were the 3rd-10th October, except for one soldier who died on the 18th. Le Catelet and Gouy were captured by the 50th Division on the 3rd October 1918. STE EMILIE BRITISH CEMETERY, VILLERS-FAUCON, stood in the grounds of the Chateau of Ste Emilie, between the house and the railway station.

  • Ste. Emilie Valley

    Villers-Faucon was captured by the 5th Cavalry Division on 27 March 1917, lost on 22 March 1918, and retaken by the III Corps on 7 September 1918. On the site of this cemetery at the Armistice, there were three large graves of Commonwealth soldiers buried by the Germans, which now form part of Plot I. The remainder of the cemetery is composed almost entirely of graves brought in from an older cemetery of the same name or from the battlefields. 

From that text we know that the Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery existed as early as 1919, as it contained the graves of the men buried by the Germans during the period from 22 March 1918 to 7 September 1918. At some point in time, they do not specify when, graves from the Ste. Emilie British Cemetery were concentrated into the Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery. Obviously that was only some of the graves, as some went to Templeux-le-Guerard.


The graves from the original Ste. Emilie British Cemetery were concentrated into Templeux-le-Guerard on or about 13-24 May 1930 (COG-BR 2052784). That appears to include all the burials that were in Plots 1, 2 and 3. There was confusion, even at that time, as some men were listed buried in the Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery and then crossed out because they were buried in the Ste. Emilie British Cemetery (COG-BR 2044506). To find out what concentrations came from the original British cemetery we need to find those that came from 62c.E.24.b.8.9. It may be that some of those are the ones reported in a close spot as 62c.E.24.c.9.3 (COG-BR 2044517).


Then it gets really confusing, as within the records of the Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery they have concentration documents referring to concentrations into the original Ste. Emilie Valley British Cemetery (parts of both names). They are clearly handwritten (COG-BR 2044526), as compared to the others mentioned above that were typed. These handwritten concentrations are dated for 11 July 1919. They must be referring to the newer cemetery (without the "British" tag) as the coordinates are given as 62c.E.24.c.7.7.


The name confusion then takes another twist! A third cemetery appears, albeit this time with the exact same name as the Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery but it is located at 62c.F.19.c.3.2 (COG-BR 2044514 and COG-BR 2044515). Does that infer that the descriptions above now should be interpreted as ONLY the original British cemetery on the grounds of the Chateau went to Templeux-le Guerard?


I will return to see how this applies to Private Nairn - once I clear my scrambled head!

Edited by laughton
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24 hours later we take a fresh look at this situation, as it is all very confusing!


If there was a third cemetery then it should be on the DAL (CWGC David Avery List). There are only two listed (page 53), neither of which are the new cemetery at 62c.E.24.c.8.4, located to the southwest of the village of Ste. Emilie. Those trench map coordinates result in the correct GPS for the current cemetery, whereas the alternate coordinates of 62c.E.24.c.7.7 do not.

  • Ste. Emilie British Cemetery, Villers Faucon 62c.E.24.b.8.9
    • this is the one on the grounds of the Chateau that was concentrated into the Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery
    • the modern day coordinates are GPS: 49.983579, 3.126565 (49°59'0.88"N 3° 7'35.63"E)
  • Ste. Emilie Valley British Cemetery, Villers Faucon 62c.F.19.c.3.2
    • the modern day coordinates for that non-existent cemetery are GPS: 49.976626, 3.129932 (49°58'35.85"N 3° 7'47.76"E)
    • that cemetery no longer exists as it was concentrated in its entirety into the new cemetery of the same name at GPS: 49.97727, 3.12039 (49°58'38.17"N 3° 7'13.40"E)
    • the description is partially incorrect as it is not exactly the same name, the new one does not contain the word "British"

I checked a few other cemeteries that were concentrated into a new cemetery against the DAL. In those cases the name of the NEW CWGC cemetery was also on the list, which suggests that the confusion with the cemetery names may have been ongoing for years. The list should have included the coordinates for the old Ste. Emilie Valley cemetery, plus the new one of the same name.


For reference, the Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery is located at 62c.L.3.c.60.85, or modern day GPS: 49.96259, 3.15761 (49°57'45.32"N 3° 9'27.40"E). Here are all the locations on modern day Google Earth:




If we go by the TMC for where we see that Private J. Nairn S/43045 was identified by his disc, but never so named by the GRU, we have 62c.F.20.d.9.7 (COG-BR 2052714). That is the set of remains that were concentrated into the Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery, into grave 1.B.17. There is also reference on a GRRF to 1.B.37 but there is no COG-BR for that grave. We have two facts we must consider for that placement:

  1. The trench map coordinates for the recovered remains do not match either of the two sets of coordinates for the Ste. Emilie cemeteries.
  2. The remains were recovered on the road going southwest from Ronssoy to Templeux-le-Guerard. The modern day coordinates are GPS: 49.976336, 3.152894 (49°58'34.81"N 3° 9'10.42"E).

If we go back to the war diary (page 16 of 51) of the 14th Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), with the refined trench map coordinates, we see "Numerous patrols pushed out and all reported trench running E&W through F.13d and F.14c&d to be occupied, as also trench running N&S through F.20 b&d. Patrols sniped at and fired upon MG from Bouleaux Woods, F.25b and from ridge along road in F.20a". This would appear to be at the place the trench maps refer to as "Raperie Switch".


If we then look at where the GRU reported that the remains of Pte. J. Nairn were recovered from a battlefield grave at "approximately" 62c.F.25.a.3.7 (COG-BR 2044526), we see that those remains were concentrated into the new Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery, Villers Faucon (ignoring the slight error in TMC of 62c.E.24.c.7.7 versus the correct coordinates of 62c.E.24.c.8.4). All of those graves were identified by a "GRU cross", which to me means that the Graves Registration Unit previously marked that as what they believed to be the grave of Private Nairn. The markings appear to be correct, as it states "Pte. J. Nairn 43045 14th Royal Highlanders 10/9/18". He is the only man of the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) on that particular "handwritten" list, reported concentrated into grave 1.E.9. There is another man of the same unit on the previous page "typed list" (COG-BR 2044525). That was Pte. J. Davidson 15546, 14th Royal Highlanders 10/9/18. This burial location is on a track leading southeast out of Ste. Emilie on the west side of Bouleaux Woods. The concentrations to the Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery are reported to have taken place on 11 July 1919 by the 83rd Labour Company. The remains were recovered, in what must have been a battlefield burial site, approximately 250 yards south of the OLD Ste. Emilie British Cemetery. The other set of remains, identified by the disc bearing the correct number, were recovered only 3 days late on 14 July 1919, also by the 83rd Labour Company.


Why did the 83rd Labour Company not name Private Nairn on 14 July 1919 when they found the disc with his service number? They couldn't, as he was already on their list as having been recovered only 3 days earlier and concentrated into another cemetery.


Did the 83rd Labour Company rely on the information from the discs to make identifications? Most certainly they did, as that is how they named Private William Munro 203406 who was recovered in the same group as S/43045. They did not change the identification from what was initially incorrect for Private Duncan of the 6th Royal Highlanders, rather they went with the name that matched the disc number 203406, that being Private Munro. There is/was no "Duncan 203406" at any time, however there were 211 "Duncan's" in the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders).


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Problems appear on COG-BR 2052714 in that most of those people do not exist, dead or alive!


The first lad on the list is OK (Lance Corporal Trethewey) and the rest fall apart. No idea where they got all that incorrect information? Appears that we cannot rely on any of the details, not even the ones they took as "corrected iterpretations (such as Duncan to Munro - see above).


The rules of the CWGC on these cases are:



Cases need to present clear and convincing evidence to prove the identity of a casualty and must not be based on assumption or speculation. The Commission's Commemoration Team will also consider whether the findings of a better informed contemporary investigation are being revisited and if there is any new evidence to consider. By way of example, it is unlikely that the Commission would support a revision of the arrangements for the commemoration where it is apparent that no new evidence is being presented and, a better informed previous decision is being revisited some 100 years later.


To date I have no proof that they did not have better information in 1919 to rule out the finding of the remains with the service number and accepting the remains with the cross. The number of other errors on the COG-BR make them all questionable, including the ones where they did name the soldier (i.e. Munro). I doubt that it is Munro in that grave. If they accepted Munro then they should have accepted Nairn, a stronger case having "no name" rather than an "incorrect name". They took Munro because they did not havehim placed anywhere else. They rejected Nairn because they did have him placed somewhere else, 3 days earlier.


There must be hundreds - perhaps thousands - of such errors all accross the Western Front. 


I will put this one to sleep for now ..... 


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