Burial service held for north-east WW1 seaman whose remains were found in French field

Post Thumbnail

A burial service has taken place for a north-east World War One serviceman whose identity was surrounded in mystery.

Able Seaman James Cameron Robertson was laid to rest at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Orchard Dump Cemetery in France.

Born in Aberdeen on 21 April 1891, James Cameron Robertson served with Hood Battalion during the Gallipoli campaign and then in France.

With more naval reservists than were required on board the ships of the Royal Navy, thousands of men like James fought as infantry soldiers.

After recovering from wounds to his leg and throat he was transferred to Anson Battalion in January 1917.

James was killed on 28 April 1917, during an attack on the German lines near the village of Gavrelle, as part of the Battle of Arras.

The battle lasted from April 9 to May 16 1917 and was a British offensive on the Western Front. Although Britain made the longest advance since trench warfare began, the battle ended up as a costly stalemate for both sides.

Although it was considered a victory for the British, they lost more than 150,000 casualties and little gain was made.

James’s remains were found in a field in France at the site of the battle. However, it was not until a public appeal that his identity was finally confirmed.

Speaking after the event, Steve Arnold from the CWGC said: “I was honoured to be able to recover Able Seaman Robertson from the battlefield where he lay for 100 years and privileged to be here today to see him laid to rest alongside his comrades.

“We will care for his grave here forever.”

The cemetery was started in April 1917 by units taking part in the battle.

It was greatly enlarged after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from other small burial grounds and from the surrounding battlefields, including the area where James was killed.

The CWGC has marked his grave with a headstone bearing his military and personal details, together with a personal inscription chosen by his family.

The service was organised by the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) at the Ministry of Defence and was attended by family members, British Defence staff, Navy representatives, CWGC staff and dignitaries.

JCCC was responsible for finding out who the remains belonged to and launched the public appeal earlier this year. Two options were narrowed down by the experts and it was Peterhead genealogist Kath Macdonald who helped solve the mystery.

After looking up census records and knowing James was from a big family, she was able to track death records of his siblings.

James’s sister Jessie Anne Robertson’s death was registered by a Francis Treasurer.

Kath entered that name into a search engine, which led her to the Facebook page of St Mary’s Cathedral on Huntly Street and a Frank Treasurer.

Frank Treasurer

Frank, who lives in Bridge of Don and is the former principal teacher of modern studies at Hazlehead Academy, was then asked to provide a DNA sample to confirm he is a relative of James.

The 81-year-old travelled to France yesterday for the service to the uncle he never knew existed.