Private’s pride of place

A display of objects, some of which helped identify a ‘lost’ First World War soldier, are now on display in the museum.

Items found with the remains of Private Henry Parker, including a belt buckle, buttons, shoulder badges and a cut-throat razor, have been donated to The Green Howards Museum by his family and are now available to view, free of charge, in the entrance gallery of the museum in Richmond.

“Human remains were found in a field near the village of Martinpuich on the Somme and we were contacted by the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) at the end of 2015 to see if we could help,” explains the museum’s Director and Curator, Lynda Powell.  “396 men from the regiment had died in or around the location where the remains had been found, but we gradually reduced the number of possible candidates down to 12.  The shoulder badges showing that he was a territorial soldier in the 5th Battalion had helped in that process of elimination.  Our archive information and research had played their part; next, we simply had to wait and hope that the soldier who had been discovered was one of ‘ours’.”

Next, the JCCC’s forensic team took DNA from the femur of the remains and compared it to that belonging to family members of some of the shortlisted soldiers who had agreed to be tested.

A match was found, and Private Parker, who died, age 22 on 26 September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, was reburied with full military honours, at Warlencourt Cemetery in France, on 17 May 2017, with 25 members of his family in attendance.  A memorial service in his home village of Wansford followed, and two boxes, containing the items which had lain with Henry in that field in France for the last 100 years, given to the museum by the modern-day Parker family.

“It feels really special to handle these items which are not only so very old, but which also link to a real person whose identity is finally known,” says Olivia Wallis, A-level history student at Richmond School, currently on work placement at the museum.  “The whole Henry Parker story is fascinating to me in the way that it has linked this soldier who was ‘lost’ for so long, with his modern day family and a whole network of people who have been involved in finding him, want to learn more about him, and make sure his sacrifice is not forgotten.  It’s reinforced to me that history is always relevant, and it’s always human.”

The museum is open 10am to 4.30pm seven days a week until the end of August.