More than a century after his death, Private (Pte) William James Meager, a 38 year old soldier from Bloomsbury in London, has finally been laid to rest with full military honours alongside two other unknown British soldiers.

The service, organised by the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Poelcapelle British Cemetery, Belgium today (27 September, ‘23).

The remains were discovered in August 2019 during a commercial archaeological dig, which was being conducted prior to development on the site. Along with the remains, they discovered various regimental insignia of the former Middlesex Regiment.

The Middlesex Regiment cap badge which helped to identify Private Meager. (Crown Copyright).

JCCC research and DNA testing identified one set of remains as Pte Meager: reported missing on 18 August 1917 during the early stages of the Battle of Passchendaele. With no remains recovered at the time of his death, he was commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Despite extensive additional testing, the other two men were not able to be identified so have been buried as unknown soldiers of unknown regiments.

Nicola Nash, JCCC case lead said:

Although it was disappointing to not name all three men, we are thrilled to finally lay Pte Meager to rest. The Battle of Passchendaele is best known for the horrendous conditions that the soldiers had to fight through and the huge number of casualties. Pte Meager and these two unknown soldiers tragically lost their lives during this battle. Today, we honour their sacrifice and pay tribute to their memory”.

Members of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment travelled from the UK to lay their fellow soldiers to rest.

Members of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment bringing in the coffin of Private Meager. (Crown Copyright).

Alan and Kathleen Meager, great nephew of Pte Meager and Alan’s wife, said:

We feel extremely honoured to be one of the lucky families whose relative has been found. We are so thankful for all the amazing work that has been done to identify William and for the respect shown by the local people of Belgium.

The service was conducted by the Reverend Paul Collins, 3rd Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR). The Reverend Collins said:

It is wonderful to know that men and women of our armed forces are not forgotten even when they died so long ago. Being able to lay them to rest and conduct the military funeral honouring their sacrifice will be a highlight of my ministry within the Royal Army Chapins Department.

The graves of Pte Meager and the two unknown soldiers will now be cared for in perpetuity by CWGC.

Director for Central and Southern Europe at the CWGC, Geert Bekaert, said:

Since his death we have ensured Pte Meager has not been forgotten, but today we are very glad to be able to finally lay him to rest along with two of his comrades at our cemetery. We will care for their graves in perpetuity.