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Soldier’s grave finally honoured 95 years on

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THE final resting place of a Kenilworth soldier killed in the First World War has been marked for the first time thanks to the rediscovery of a letter to his parents.

A special memorial ceremony involving his relatives and town historians was finally held in Belgium to mark the spot where he was laid to rest.

Dudley White, a 20-year-old soldier from Castle Road, was killed on October 9 1917 when his tank, Damon II, was hit by a German shell in the town square in Poelkapelle.

He is recorded in history as having no known grave, but thanks to efforts of historians this is no longer the case.

Historian Susan Tall, co-author of Kenilworth and the Great War, which explores the life of soldiers in the conflict, explained that all twelve tanks in Dudley’s unit were lost in the advance on the German base in Poelkapelle.

After the war the wrecks of the other tanks were destroyed but Damon II remained as a memorial until it was demolished by the Germans in 1942 to use its steel frame in their own war effort.

And it was while researching for the book that she discovered a letter informing his parents that he had been buried beside the tank.

Susan said: “The letter was published in the Coventry Herald in October 1917 and we discovered it when researching the local newspapers for our book.

“It was quite usual at that time for parents to have such letters printed in their local newspapers.”

Lieutenant Coghlan, the commander of Damon II, wrote to the boys’ parents saying that Dudley had been buried next to the tank. And this vital information led eager historians to the very spot where he and the rest of the crew were laid to rest.

Susan was then contacted by Poelkapelle residents Johan and Luc Vanbeselaere who were interested in her discovery.

She was invited to be guest of honour at a ceremony in Belguim together with relatives of Dudley White and Noel Coghlan, nephew of his tank commander. She also had chance to see the beginning of work to create a full scale working replica of the tank in time for 2014 when it will be 100 years since the conflict broke out.

Speaking about the trip where she laid a wreath on behalf of the people of Kenilworth, Susan said it was wonderful to be able to finally honour the place where the young solider was laid to rest, but said that sadly the ground has been developed and sits in the middle of a busy road.

“It felt right to finally mark his resting place,” she said.

“I was honoured to have been invited to represent Kenilworth.”

A scale replica of Damon II was unveiled in Poelkapelle square a few feet away from where Dudley fell.

Visit www.susantall.co.uk/dudleywhite.html for information.

In his letter to Mr and Mrs White, Lieutenant John Coghlan, commander of the tank Damon II, wrote:

I am very sorry to have to inform you that your son Dudley, the finest and bravest boy I have ever met, was killed in action on the 9th of this month. He was in my own crew, and we went into action at dawn on that morning against some strong points at Poelcapelle. From the start we were shelled heavily, and about 8.30 a shell struck the “Tank”, killing your son who was at his gun – he was a gunner – instantly. His death must have been painless, for he never uttered a word, being hit along the back and right side. The Corps has lost a brave soldier and my Company a dear comrade with his death and you have our utmost sympathy at this sad blow. He is buried beside the “Tank” in Poelcapelle, and a braver boy never rests under the Belgian soil.

 

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