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Remembered Today:

Identifying Unknown Officer


Neil Mackenzie
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At Tyne Cot last Sunday with Clive Harris he pointed out to me the grave of an 'Unknown Officer of the Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars (known at the time as 'Queer Objects on Horseback'). A check by Clive on 'Officers Died in the Great War' later that evening showed only ten officer fatalities from this unit so I decided to look a bit further.

The Oxfordshire County Council website actually gives 11 officers, 9 of whom have a known grave or who are commemorated well away from the Salient:-

Captain G Bonham-Carter, kia 15/5/15, Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery

2/Lt WHL Vernon, attached to 6 Bn Ox and Bucks, kia 7/10/16, Thiepval Memorial

Lt-Col JW Scott, CO 8 Bn Somerset LI, kia 23/4/17, Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery Souchez

Major VF Fleming (father of Ian Fleming), kia 20/5/17, Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery

Lt FSJ Silvertop, kia 20/5/17, Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery

2/Lt JAP Whinney, kia 22/6/17, Unicorn Cemetery Vend’huile

Lt AJL O'Beirne, attached 57 Squadron RFC, kia 28/7/17, Coxyde Military Cemetery

Lt JP Higgs, attached Machine Gun Corps, kia 14/4/18, Namps-au-Val British Cemetery

Captain H Fane, kia 11/8/18, Mezieres Communal Cemetery

This leaves 2 men:-

Captain BCB Molloy, kia 1/11/14, Ypres-Menin Gate

2/Lt HEC Biederman, attached 57 Squadron RFC, kia 10/8/17, Arras Flying Services Memorial

Information provided by CWGC (Roy Hemington) indicates that this body was located at trench map reference 28.D.19.b.60.10 and moved to its current location at Tyne Cot in September 1919. This puts the original location of the body to the east of Iberian Farm - which is north of Frezenberg and Beck House in the northern part of the Ypres Salient.

BCB Molloy

Captain Molloy was the first fatality suffered by the QOOH in the war being killed in action on 1 November 1914. The war diary (WO95/1137) for that day states:-

"At 7am I was ordered to send the two Squadrons who had been relived from the barrier at Messines to reconnoitre from Wulverghem towards the Wytschaete-Messines ridge as a small force of the enemy were reported to have broken through the line. On arrival at Steenebock brook the cavalry on our right had orders to retire from Messines. As they retired we endeavoured to support them with long range rifle fire directed at the enemy who came over the Wytschaete-Messines ridge, & on retiring ourselves we came under some rifle and maxim fire. At this point Major Molloy was killed and one man wounded. During the remainder of the day we were in trenches on the Wulverghem - Wytschaete road and were relived about 8pm and went into billets in Wulverghem."

This suggests the body is not his.

HEC Biederman

2/Lt Biederman was attached to the 57th Squadron RFC. When he was killed on 10 August 1917 they were based at Boisdinghem (west of St Omer) and flying DH4’s.

He joined the Squadron sometime in 1917 and is only mentioned twice in their war diary (AIR 1/173/15/177/1) including the following entry for 10 August 1917, the day he was killed:-

"On this day the Squadron unfortunately lost two machines. When returning from a successful 6 machine bomb raid on Ledeghem, Lieutenant Barlow’s machine was seen to lose height and drop out of the formation. The pilot was unable to regain the line and he and his observer, Lieutenant Hutchinson, were lost to the Squadron. Lieutenants Biederman and Calder did not return from photography over Houthulst Forest."

This places Biederman in the north of the Salient and the area where he was buried is reasonably in line with Houthulst and the St Omer base. Thanks to Aurel Sercu, I also know that his date of death is in line with the narrow timeframe that the cemeteries around Iberian Farm were in use (August-September 1917 and March 1918) - the bodies in these cemeteries were moved to Tyne Cot after the war.

On this basis I have written to CWGC suggesting that the body in the grave is that of 2 Lt HEC Biederman. However I would appreciate any comments from those who agree/disagree. In particular:-

1. Is anyone aware of any other officers from QOOH who died in the war?

2. Is it reasonable that Biederman, having been attached to the RFC sometime in 1917, would still be wearing QOOH insignia?

3. Has anyone come across any reference to crash reports on that date which may strengthen or disprove my argument? My earlier thread on HEC Biederman did not come up with anything conclusive (see here).

Many thanks.

Neil

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Hello Neil

I cannot answer the questions that you have posed but is it also possible that an officer could be attached to the QOOH?

Regards

Mel

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Terry.

I took my list from the Oxfordshire County Council site (click here). While 'Officers Died in the Great War' lists no additional names, do CWGC have a definitive list of fatalities for each unit (I suspect they don't)?

Mel

Your concern is my concern as well. Although, as Terry has pointed out, Bonham-Carter was on attachment and is included in the list. I will contact the Council to see who compiled the list and where they got the information from.

Thanks for your replies.

Neil

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Terry.

I took my list from the Oxfordshire County Council site (click here). While 'Officers Died in the Great War' lists no additional names, do CWGC have a definitive list of fatalities for each unit (I suspect they don't)?

Mel

Your concern is my concern as well. Although, as Terry has pointed out, Bonham-Carter was on attachment and is included in the list. I will contact the Council to see who compiled the list and where they got the information from.

Thanks for your replies.

Neil

Neil

I believe the information would have to go to the Mod although the CWGC act as liason. I sent in some 20 odd pages of proof so you need a pretty strong dossier to put forward.

Best of luck.

Stevem

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Terry.

If I contact them do you think they will let me have a copy of their list for QOOH? The Oxfordshire CC site only has 148 names but stops at November 1918 so the others could, I suppose, be men who died between then and the CWGC cut off date and qualified for recognition.

Steve - Thanks for the info, I wondered how the process worked. My submission was only 3 pages so they will probably need more proof (it was top quality though :) ).

Neil

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Hello Neil

Good work...however, I do think that the CWGC/MoD will require something a little more concrete than identifying a man through a process of elimination.

Andy

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Terry - a PM is on its way, thanks for your help.

Max - I suspect you might be right. It would be better if I could definately say the body came from one of the Iberian cemeteries (Iberian South or Iberian Trench Cemetery) as these were only in use for a limited period and Biederman was the only QOOH officer who died in that timescale. Aurel Sercu has started another thread on these two cemeteries as he is also very interested in them (click here).

Neil

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Neil

If it were me I would be running a parallel investigation into what happened to Calder (you are probably already doing this) , because by definition, if you find one, you find the other. Were there any "unknown" Ox and Bucks " officers buried in the cems around Iberian Farm?

Andy

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Max.

Thanks for the suggestion - the issue of Lt Calder had crossed my mind.

Aurel was going to go up to Tyne Cot this week to see if the graves around the 'Unknown Officer' grave gave any clues. However, I will contact CWGC to see if they are able to give me details on any other bodies moved from that map reference and where they went to in case this gives further clues.

I would not be surprised if most will be unknown as I suspect many grave markers were lost in the 1918 fighting.

Neil

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Terry.

Many thanks for the CWGC list as it identified 2 more officers killed. Despite a brief moment of panic on my part these two men don't change the picture as they both have known graves.

2/Lt HC Smith, died accidentally 10/10/16, Chingford Mount Cemetery UK

Lt L Dove, attached from Bedfordshire Yeomanry, kia 1/4/18, Namps-au-Val British Cemetery

Neil

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  • 11 years later...

Well it has taken exactly 12 years but I have now had a reply from the MOD (a very comprehensive one from Miss Baron of the JCCC),

 

As it turns out the grave cannot be Harry's because the man buried there was actually in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (QOCH) and not the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars (QOOH) and records must have been incorrectly amended at some stage.

 

On 22 August 1917 the 7th Bn QOCH apparently attacked in the area where the body was first buried (near Iberian Farm) and 3 officers were missing from that action. In addition, other remains located in the same area were also QOCH men.

 

Not all a waste of time though as the gravestone will be amended in due course and some details of Harry's entry on the CWGC database will also be corrected.

 

Neil

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Neil.  On behalf of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry Trust may I extend our thanks for your determined efforts in putting this case forward despite this unexpected outcome.  The explanation from the MOD does appear to exclude the possibility of this being 2nd Lieutenant Harry Ernest Charles Biedermann.

 

Mike Cross

Edited by Mike Cross
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