Image: MOD Crown Copyright 2023

More than a century after his death, Lance Serjeant Robert Brand, a 24-year-old Glaswegian soldier has finally been laid to rest with full military honours in Belgium. He was buried alongside two unknown soldiers from the same regiment.

The burial service, organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Messines Ridge Cemetery, Belgium today (25 October 2023).

Tracey Bowers, JCCC Case lead, said:

Robert served his Country for the entirety of the War and paid the ultimate sacrifice, I am honoured to have worked on this case and be here today to pay my respects. It is always disappointing not to identify all soldiers but we will keep trying.

The three soldiers were recovered by archaeologists working in Neuve Eglise, Belgium, as part of a potato farm expansion project. Artefacts found nearby identified them as soldiers from the 9th (Glasgow Highland) Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. Other finds indicated they died after August 1916; this information combined with that from battalion war diaries and other records, narrowed their dates of death to a period between 13-15 April 1918. This was during the Battle of the Lys.

A shortlist of potential candidates was drawn up using the finds, anthropological information and documentary evidence. Then efforts were made to trace the descendants of eight of the regiment’s men listed as missing and who matched all the available evidence. Lance Serjeant Robert Brand was positively identified through the DNA testing of his descendants.

Robert Brand was born on 13 September 1893 in Stirling, to William McPhail Brand and Christina Johnston Arthur. He was the eldest of 12 children. He had first gone to France with the army in November 1914, and in 1916 he was hospitalised with a gunshot wound to the neck. Following this, he was entitled to wear a wound stripe on his uniform. This wound stripe was one of the critical artefacts in helping to identify him as one of these casualties.

Caroline Smith, Great Niece, said:

The Brand Family is honoured and humbled to be able to attend the burial of our Uncle, Lance Serjeant Robert Brand and two of his fellow soldiers. It is amazing how remains have been found after all these decades.

We would like to thank the JCCC whom have guided us through the process of DNA and organising the burial. Also thank you to the Regiment for being here to support and honour. Last of all thank you Uncle Robert, who fought for our country and our family. We are very proud and grateful.

The service was supported by members of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland who provided the bearer party, Piper and Bugler.

Conducting the service, Rev’d David Jeal, chaplain said:

It is a great honour and privilege to finally lay our soldiers from World War 1 to rest. We remember their sacrifice and have given them the full military burial they deserved, something I and all 2 SCOTS soldiers present will never forget.

The graves of Lance Serjeant Brand and the two unknown soldiers will be cared for in perpetuity by CWGC.

Geert Bekaert Commonwealth War Graves Commission Area Director said:

It is a profound honour to now care for the graves of Lance Serjeant Robert Brand and his fellow soldiers from the 9th (Glasgow Highland) Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, at Messines Ridge Cemetery, Belgium. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission reaffirms its commitment to preserving their memory in perpetuity and their burial today reminds us of the enduring legacy of all those who served during the First World War.

Among the soldiers who remain unidentified, one possible individual is Private Robert Campbell. The JCCC would like to appeal to any family members who believe they could be related to a Pte Robert Campbell who served with the 9th Glasgow Highland Light Infantry to get in touch.