Efforts to name ‘unknown’ grave

A Dutch organisation is working to give a Green Howards name to a currently ‘unknown’ soldier’s headstone in Venray cemetery.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Venray War Cemetery is on the outskirts of the village in the south-east of the Netherlands. The graves of 692 servicemen and one civilian (a war correspondent) are there, including two identified members of the regiment: Lieutenant George Foster and Private Alfred Williams.

But now, following the research efforts of the Dutch Stichting Adoptiegraven Grave Adoption Foundation, it’s hoped one of the graves currently marked a being an unknown British soldier will soon be rededicated to be the resting place of a third Green Howards soldier, Kenneth Feeney.

“The objective of our foundation is to keep the memories of the 693 men who are buried there live. For this we give the public the opportunity to symbolically adopt a grave,” explains Tom van Mierlo. “We also try to find a photo of each man so we can put a face to his grave. Furthermore, we try to document their personal stories and find their relatives. In the case of the 30 unknown graves our ultimate goal is to put a name on these graves.”

Most of the men who lie in the cemetery were killed during the liberation of the area around Venray between October 1944 and March 1945, however, there are also almost 170 men whose bodies were recovered by American troops, mainly in Germany, and transferred to Venray for burial. The Americans initially buried them temporarily in the American war cemetery in Margraten (also in the Netherlands). From there they were reburied by the British Graves Concentration Units in various cemeteries in the Netherlands including Venray.

On November 25, 1945, the remains of an unknown soldier were transferred from Margraten to Venray  and buried in plot  VII. C. 7. Although his identity could not be established, some things were known about him.  The Graves Concentration Report Form lists 14 April 1945 as the date of death. Initially, the name ‘Thorn’ is filled in and the army number 25422. Later, that is struck-out and replaced with ‘unknown PW’. The following is added to the number 25422: Thorn PW Camp No. In those days however it was impossible for the British Graves Concentration Unit to link a German Prisoner of War (PoW) number to a name. So, they had no other choice but to label the grave as that of an unknown person.

image of Tom van Mierlo in the Venray graveyard

Tom van Mierlo at the grave

German PoW records show that the PoW number 25422 belonged to Private Kenneth Frederick Feeney, service number 4390400, 1st Battalion, Green Howards.

The first date mentioned in the German archives is 9 July 1940 when Kenneth is in a Kriegslazarett, or ‘war hospital’ in Lillehammer, Norway. On 21 August 1940, Kenneth is transferred from Lillehammer to Oslo. Ten days later he is brought aboard the ship ‘Stuttgart’, bound for Swinemünde, then in northern Poland.

Eventually Kenneth ends up in Stalag XXA near Thorn (Northern Poland). There he is given the prisoner number 25422. In 1943 he is transferred to Stalag XXB near Mariënburg and admitted to the infirmary. His final appearance in the German archives is on 1 December 1944, whilst still at Mariënburg.

In January 1945 Stalag XXB is evacuated as Soviet forces advance. The PoW are forced to march westward. Many die during this infamous death march, which lasted three and a half months; Kenneth is probably one of them. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database, he died on 13 April 1945.

Kenneth is currently commemorated in the UK on the CWGC Brookwood 1939-1945 memorial, which is dedicated to 3500 men and women who died during the Second World War and whose grave is not known.

The Grave Adoption Foundation have submitted a request to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to designate the unknown grave VII.G.7 in Venray Cemetery as Kenneth Feeney’s. In time, it may be that the grave of this unknown soldier bears his name.