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The Somme remembered: Headstone at last for Inniskillings soldier lost for a century

By Ivan Little

Published 04/07/2016

Ivan Little at the graveside of Sgt David Harkness Blakey
Ivan Little at the graveside of Sgt David Harkness Blakey
Sgt David Harkness Blakey

This is the headstone for a fallen English soldier from an Ulster regiment on the Somme that took nearly 100 years to erect.

That's because the remains of Sgt David Harkness Blakey were only found near the Ulster Memorial Tower at Thiepval 98 years after he was killed by the Germans.

The story of the discovery during road improvements was revealed by the Belfast Telegraph two years ago. And at last week's commemorations on the centenary of the start of the bloody battle, Somme Association chairman Alan McFarland reminded the 3,000 guests - including Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall - of the find.

Sgt Blakey was from Tyneside but joined the 11th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers because his wife was from Londonderry. His family knew he was dead but his body wasn't located and he was listed among the 72,000 names on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing men.

Sgt Blakey was in full kit with his rifle and bayonet when his body was found.

Metal identity tags confirmed it was the 26-year-old father-of-three from Gateshead.

He enlisted after seeing a newspaper advertisement from the Inniskillings seeking recruits from England with Irish links.

After Sgt Blakey's remains were identified the Ministry of Defence searched for relatives and his great-granddaughter Jackie Coleman came forward.

She revealed that her father Norman had attended two memorial services for his grandad at Thiepval, unaware his body was just a short distance away.

He died before Sgt Blakey's remains were discovered.

Thousands of bodies have lain buried under the fields of the Somme for 100 years. Sgt Blakey, who received a posthumous bravery award, was buried last October with military honours and three generations of his family were at the cemetery, yards from where he fell.

Two unknown soldiers - one from the Royal Irish Rifles, one from the Cambridgeshire Regiment - were buried beside him.

His Union flag-draped coffin was carried by six pall bearers from the Royal Irish Regiment.

Rev Robert Birnie, an RIR padre, led the service.

Belfast Telegraph

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