Identifying 2 B.E.F. soldiers buried in dugout

Discussion in 'Non-Commemorated War Dead' started by Dirk, Jul 14, 2011.

  1. Dirk

    Dirk Member


    As a local historian, I'd like to learn the identity of two Commonwealth soldiers whose remains were found by accident somewhere around 1949-1953 in the Belgian village of Korbeek-Dijle (Corbeek-Dyle). The village of Korbeek-Dijle is situated 30 kilometres east of Brussels and 8 kilometres south-west of Leuven (Louvain).

    The story goes as follows: The bones of the soldiers came accidentally to light, when a game warden found a soldier's shoe sticking out of the bank of the "Hollestraat" - a sunken road. Some rain shower or thunderstorm had washed the shoe clean and thus caught the game warden's attention. So he pulled the shoe free from the earth making the macabre discovery that he not only had pulled the shoe free from the earth but also with it the leg bone of its owner which was still stuck in the shoe. The game warden informed the rural policeman about his find.

    While the rural policeman and an employee of the municipality were recovering the poor soldier's bones they stumbled upon the skeleton of a second soldier. Their remains were lying in situ, in a horizontal position, one lying next to the other, and it dawned to the rural policeman that both soldiers had died in their dugout which was cut out in the sandy bank of the "Hollestraat". His theory is that an enemy shell smashed the bank, most likely exploding just above their dugout, causing the sandy ground to collapse with the dreathfull result of burying both men alive.The drama must have gone swift, both had their helmets still on their head. All that remained of them were naked bones. The rural policeman found pieces of clothing. However, he didn't find the Identification Discs.

    Locals say both men were buried at Heverlee War Cemetery. This would be logical as Heverlee War Cemetery is situated only 4 kilometres east of Korbeek-Dijle.

    In May 1940, during the Battle of the River Dyle (12-17 May 1940), Korbeek-Dijle was held by the 2nd Battalion of The North Staffordshire Regiment. The Battalion had established its Headquarters in the "Hollestraat". Several dugouts were made in the banks of this sunken lane. On 15 and 16 May 1940, a heavy enemy artillery barrage fell on Battalion Headquarters and the whole of the sunken lane and the equipment in it was blown to pieces. Assumingly, the dugout of the two men was hit the 15th or 16th of May thus becoming unexpectedly their last resting place.

    Today, Heverlee War Cemetery (a Commonwealth War Cemetery) counts precisely two graves of two soldiers belonging to the 2nd Battalion of The North Staffordshire Regiment. Their names are: Private's PAULEY, WILLIAM GEORGE and ROBINSON, JACK SAMUEL , both were killed on the 16 May 1940.

    I wrote the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to learn whether both Private's PAULEY and ROBINSON were the soldiers found in the "Hollestraat" in Korbeek-Dijle. Here's the Commonwealth War Graves Commissions' answer: "Please note, that Private W G Pauley and Private J S Robinson were previously buried in Ninove Churchyard however the date of the burial is not recorded. Our records show no information on how the bodies were found or by whom. No details also given regarding the cause of death. Private W G Pauley and Private J S Robinson buried in Heverlee War Cemetery around 1951".

    The Belgian town of Ninove is situated about 40 kilometres West of Korbeek-Dijle. My assumption is that Privates PAULEY and ROBINSON got wounded at the River Dyle Line in Korbeek-Dijle, and were evacuated to Ninove where - I guess - a Casualty Clearing Station was located, and subsequently died of wounds. So ... my guess is that Privates PAULEY and ROBINSON aren't the ones that were found in the "Hollestraat" back in 1949-1953.

    But whose remains were than found in the Hollestraat...????

    I noticed that the Dunkirk Memorial commemorates precisely two men of the 2nd Bn. North Staffs still missing namely:
    - BISHOP, WILLIAM HENRY, Service No: 5046272, Date of Death: 15/05/1940
    - LEE, FRANCIS GEORGE , Service No: 5047355, Date of Death: 15/05/1940

    Here's what I do know about BISHOP, WILLIAM HENRY, thanks to a copy of an article that was given to me. Here follows a transcription (the article appeared in "The Cannock Advertiser" and is dated 21 March 1942) : "Private William H. Bishop, whose home was at 21 Piggott street, Wimblebury, has been officialy presumed killed in action.
    He was reported missing nearly two years ago on May 15 1940, at Corbeek-Dyle in Belgium. He was thirthy-two years of age and was a married man with one child. He was a member of the regular army for over seven years and has seen service in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. He had been serving in the army reserve and was called up at the outbreak of war
    A memorial service for Pte. Bishop was held at St. Paul's Church, Wimblebury, which he attended as a boy. The service was conducted by the Rev. N. P. Stevens, assisted by Mr. A.C. Cooke".

    What if both men found in the "Hollestraat" weren't identified, and are buried at Heverlee War Cemetery - as locals say ??? I went to Heverlee War Cemetery to look for two adjoining unidentified burials and I found two such pair. Again, I wrote the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with the following questions:

    1. Do the records hold any information about two casualties - be it identified or be it unidentified - found in the period 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 or 1953 in Korbeek-Dijle? (Please note that Korbeek-Dijle may have been spelled the old way as 'Corbeek-Dyle' in original records. Also note that the remains of the two casualty weren't necessarilly identified.)

    2. I assume that a record is held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for each unidentified burial. Could it be that - in case the remains were'nt identified - that both men are nowadays resting next to oneanother at the Heverlee War Cemetery under seperate gravemarkers bearing the inscription "Known Unto God".

    The Commonwealth War Graves Commission's answer is the following: "I am unable to provide further information as our archive is incomplete and no concentration documents exist for those dates. Whilst I am unable to assist you in this instance, I wish you every success in your project".

    HELP .... !!!!!

    A. Can someone advise me as to how I have to proceed with my quest,so I can ascertain whether both men found in the "Hollestraat" in Korbeek-Dijle were identified Yes or No?

    B. What British or Belgian department, organism or organization do I need to contact to receive precise information about both unfortunate B.E.F soldiers found in the "Hollestraat" in Korbeek-Dijle?

    I thank you for any help you can give.
    JWB likes this.
  2. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    There is a file in National Archives which deals with those reported missing from the regiment while serving in BEF. From experience these files can be difficult to extract information from (generally clerical lists), but this would certainly be worth checking if you still want to follow the North Staffs line of enquiry. There may be statements from eye-witnesses, all depends on the quality of the data accumulated at the time.

    WO 361/94 British Expeditionary Force, France: North Staffordshire Regiment; missing men 1941 Jan 01 - 1942 Dec 31
  4. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Dirk, have you had no luck in the Belgian records ? Presumably there would have been an official report to confirm that these were not recent deaths ?

    Have you managed to get hold of the battalion's war diary ? It seems odd that neither body was identifiable from discs or posessions. Could the fact that they were lying next to each other indicate that this was a temporary burial and that the marker (if any) was subsequently lost.

    It seems to be a feature of the 1940 campaign that discs were generally removed at the time of death resulting in difficulty identifying at the point of re-burial. You may find reference to burials in the war diary if it survived.

    The cemetery at Oud Heverlee doesn't date from 1940, as you probably know and was established after the liberation close to a hospital in the school there. I tried to plot positions on the 'Dyle Line' using local burials but strangely enough most of the army burials from 1940 were concentrated at Leopoldsburg and Heverlee has a preponderance of RAF burials, including crews who died bombing the Albert Canal in 1940 and who had been buried there.

    There seems to be little logic in these post-war concentrations but Leopoldsburg does seem to have remained 'active' for longer.

    In terms of locating the current burial place, it would seem likely that the marker will include no details of unit as unfortunately, the newly introduced Battledress included no unit markings at all and the presence of a unit at a certain place would never have been sufficient evidence for CWGC to risk guesswork.
  5. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    Hello, Dirk
    An interesting and well researched posting
    Your English is excellent and I'm sure I speak for many here that we welcome your research and will try and assist.
    There is an organisation known as "In From The Cold" Project which seeks to identify the remains of servicemen. It has been very successful in finding WW1 graves which had been overlooked and the men only being commemorated on Memorials.
    It may be worth an approach to them.
    IFCP - Report A Missing Casualty
    If you use the link on that page "You can report any such missing names here" they will be able to advise whether they need anything more from you.
    They will be better able to deal with the right people in the Ministry of Defence and CWGC and take your case forward.
    Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the families of these soldiers, whoever they may be, but it does look as if you have some compelling evidence as to their likely identity.
    Well Done!!
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Dirk,

    I suspect the answer to your Q's will be in Belgium. I have a similiar scenario of an unknown officer buried in Esquelbecq-I'm convinced I know who he is, I just can't prove it.

    As Rich has suggested try the local authorities like the Police, Mayor's office, Courts and Coroners (Belgian equivalents). There must have been an investigation when the bodies were found and thr records etc filed away.

    Good luck and keep us posted.

  7. geoff501

    geoff501 Achtung Feind hört mit

    Hello, Dirk

    There is an organisation known as "In From The Cold" Project which seeks to identify the remains of servicemen. It has been very successful in finding WW1 graves which had been overlooked and the men only being commemorated on Memorials.
    It may be worth an approach to them.
    IFCP - Report A Missing Casualty

    Such cases are probably beyond the scope of the IFCP project who's main aim is to get due commemoration for names who are truly lost. Secondary, the matching up of names on memorials to properly recorded burials, which by persistent and clever detective work has some considerable success.
    I don't think they can help identifying remains. Andy's suggestion is the best way to go.
  8. chrisharley9

    chrisharley9 Senior Member

    As the man who does most of the grave hunting at IFCP this is something new to me. Without some form of identity on the bodies that were found then there is little chance of making a foolproof case.

    Your only hope is the war diary &/or local records.

    Im very sorry that IFCP cannot be of more help


  9. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    Dirk: I did give the IFTC Project a "heads up" about this information.
    As stated, there needs to be something to positively identify these men.
    That should have been done at the time of discovery, so as they weren't able to be identified then, with access to any other artefacts with them, then it may still not be possible to positively identify them.
    You need to go back and ask what else was found with the bodies. Badges, buttons, clothing or any personal possessions would be the key to proof of identity.
  10. Dirk

    Dirk Member


    I thank you all for the good advice.

    I interviewed the rural policeman, who collected the remains of both casualties. He is 96, and hasn't any recollections about making an official report at the time. However, he recalls informing the office of prosecution of Leuven (Louvain), and he also thinks the Belgian Gendarmerie was present at a given time. I hope to find evidence in the archives of the office of prosecution in Leuven.

    In the War Diary of the 2nd N. Staffs no mentioning is made about fatal casualties, except for 2nd Lt. R.C. Le Tissier who was killed as a result of enemy arty that fell on Bn. HQ established in the sunken lane called Hollestraat. Lt. R.C. Le Tissier's final resting place is Korbeek-Dijle Churchyard.

    The file in the National Archives which deals with those reported missing from the 2nd N. Staffs is rather disappointing as no eye-witness accounts are included with reference to Privates Bishop and Lee.

    Kevin, I think I'll follow up your advice by notifying the IFTC Project about my conclusions with reference to Privates Bishop and Lee.
    By the way, thanks for the compliment on my English!

    Again, I thank you all,
  11. morrisc8

    morrisc8 Under the Bed

    Is it possible to go back to where they were found and see if any more info can be found in the area as they [the police] could have missed some artefacts, ie buttons, badge, Ect. [ so near but yet so far.] I wish you all the Best in finding there IDs.
  12. morrisc8

    morrisc8 Under the Bed

    Any update as to the IDs .
    Drew5233 likes this.
  13. chick42-46

    chick42-46 Senior Member

    Would be interested in an update too if there is one.

    One thought occurred to me reading the original post. Are we sure these are WW2 casualties? I ask only because the lack of much in the way of uniforms, after only a relatively brief period in the ground, doesn't seem right. Surely the uniforms wouldn't have rotted that quickly? But if these poor souls had been there since 1914-18, that might explain things. There was certainly fighting in this area in WW1, and there are a small number of WW1 burials in Heverlee Cemetery, so it's not beyond the bounds of possibility. My limited knowledge suggests that many WW1 casualties were buried at or near where they fell where possible but that meant, sometimes years later, the locations of the burials were lost. I know for instance of casualties buried in May 1915 after the battle of Aubers who are listed now only on memorials, the graves and remains having subsequently been destroyed/lost.

    So could these men be WW1 casualties, whose names are on a memorial somewhere as killed but having no known grave?
  14. JWB

    JWB New Member

    Hi Dirk,

    I have only just read your post on this website, and to be honest, I'm absolutely astonished. Private 5046272 William Henry Bishop was my Uncle. The details you describe from "The Cannock Advertiser" are exactly correct. William, or "Bill" had 2 Brothers and 2 Sisters ( one being my mother, Phyllis ) As you can imagine, his family were completely devastated when they found out that he was "missing in action" ( and of course, the fact that his body was never found? only made matters worse ) Sadly, all of his siblings have now passed away, but my mother spent all of her life trying to find out what had happened to her brother. As for myself, I am interested in Ancestry and History, and you could say, that I've "taken up the mantle" in searching for information about my "Uncle Bill". Like yourself, we have tried numerous research methods including the "Ministry of Defence" and "The Commonwealth War Graves Comission" but came to the conclusion that William probably succumbed to a "direct hit" from some sort of explosive and was vaporised ( hence, no remains? ) We also have come to the same conclusion, that he was probably in the same vicinity of "Private Francis George Lee" who was reported missing at the same time. I have in my possession, the letter sent from his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel D. Butterworth? ( difficult to read signature ) to Williams family after he was reported missing: "Pte Dinose? states that your Son-in-Law was last seen in the neighbourhood of CORBEEK-DYLE on the DYLE river in BELGIUM on or about 15 May. He was then in the neighbourhood of Battalion Headquarters which was being shelled at intervalls by the enemy". Ulitmately, it would be remarkable for myself if I could positively identify my Uncles remains and establish an headstone in his rememberance ( both, for himself and my mother ) As an amateur in these matters, it seems to me that DNA could be the answer to this issue, of which I would only be too glad to provide ( I presume this wouldn't be an easy option to persue ) Rest assured, I'm as determined as yourself to find a resolution to this situation and would be grateful for any advice from yourself. Finally, I understand that this could possibly not be my Uncle, but regardless of that, I would like to sincerely thank you for your dedicated research and respect for our servicemen.

    Kind regards,
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  15. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

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  16. JWB

    JWB New Member

    Thank you Harry for your advice. It's something I will definitely pursue.

    Kind regards,

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