Grave of 2nd Lt Osmund Bartle Wordsworth identified

The grave of Glaston-born Second Lieutenant (2nd Lt) Osmund Bartle Wordsworth, the great-great-nephew of Cumbria’s world-renowned 18th Century romantic poet William Wordsworth, has been rededicated in France more than a century after his death.

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The new named headstone of 2Lt Wordsworth. Crown copyright.

The service, organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) H.A.C. Cemetery, Écoust-Saint-Mein, near Arras, in northern France.

Tuesday’s service was attended by members of the extended Wordsworth family including Araminta Wordsworth, his first cousin once removed who had travelled from Canada:

Araminta said:

“The identification of Osmund’s remains is the result of the combination of happenstance and brilliant detective work. When I read about the discovery just before Remembrance Day last year, I knew I wanted to be present at his rededication service.

“Now he has been laid to rest more than a century after he was killed, and we can visit his grave. This is a rare privilege as hundreds of thousands of fellow combatants have no known resting place. I would like to thank the British Ministry of Defence and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who have made this possible.”

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Civilians and service personnel past and present pay tribute to 2Lt Wordsworth. Crown copyright.

2nd Lt Wordsworth’s, at first, unidentified remains were found with buttons identifying him only as an Officer of The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox & Bucks LI).

But when JCCC investigated all missing Officers of Ox & Bucks LI missing in France, none had been killed close to the location where these remains were found.

On further investigation Rosie Barron, JCCC case lead, found that 2nd Lt Wordsworth had initially been commissioned into the Ox & Bucks LI before transferring to another unit – it seemed he had been wearing his former unit’s buttons when he died:

“Having made this discovery that no Ox & Bucks LI lay in that area, I turned the focus of my research to the location of the find; this was when I discovered that an officer named 2nd Lt Wordsworth had been killed in Henin-sur-Cojeul on the day the village was recaptured in 1917.

“It was very exciting for me to have finally identified this man and to give him his name back. It is always an honour to organise rededication services such as this, they are the conclusion of a century old mystery for families such as the Wordsworths.”

A graveside rededication service was conducted by the Reverend Thomas Wilde CF, Chaplain to 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, and was attended by serving soldiers of 5th Battalion The Rifles and 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.

The Reverend Thomas Wilde CF said:

“I feel very privileged to conduct the rededication service for 2nd Lt Wordsworth, it is important to honour and remember this brave officer for the sacrifice he made on behalf of his country. It is very powerful when you add a name to a grave.”

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Floral tributes at the grave of 2Lt Wordsworth. Crown copyright.

How 2nd Lt Wordsworth died

On 2 April 1917, the village of Henin-sur-Cojeul was recaptured by British forces as they pursued the enemy back to the Hindenburg Line. The attack on the village was carried out by 21st Infantry Brigade. It was during this attack that 2nd Lt Wordsworth, who was serving with 21st Machine Gun Company, was killed.

Reports from the day of his death suggest that 2nd Lt Wordsworth saw a gun crew was struggling to get into position and he went to assist them. He was shot through the chest and was buried in Henin-sur-Cojeul. His remains were not recovered after the Great War and, as he was still missing, 2nd Lt Wordsworth was commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

How 2nd Lt Wordsworth was discovered

In 2012 the remains of an Officer wearing buttons of Ox & Bucks LI, were recovered by an archaeologist in the village of Henin-sur-Cojeul. Initial research conducted by the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum pointed to the Officer being one of four men. However, after an unsuccessful DNA-led investigation, he was buried in H.A.C. Cemetery in September 2015 as an unknown Officer of the Ox & Bucks LI.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, which restricted JCCC’s ability to deliver such services abroad, the JCCC took the opportunity review ‘cold cases’ where DNA had been taken but no match found. This further research successfully identified the unknown Officer as 2nd Lt Wordsworth.

2nd Lt Wordsworth had initially been commissioned into the Ox & Bucks LI and was wearing his former unit’s buttons when he died. JCCC conducted research which later suggested this unknown Officer could be 2nd Lt Wordsworth; the final piece of the jigsaw was to carry out DNA testing. A great nephew of 2nd Lt Wordsworth was located and proved to be a DNA match to the soldier.

Now that his final resting place has been identified, the headstone over 2nd Lt Wordsworth’s grave has been replaced by the CWGC. They will care for his final resting place in perpetuity.

Director, External Relations at the CWGC, Liz Woodfield, said:

“It is a privilege and honour to be able to formally recognise Second Lieutenant Wordsworth’s final resting place at our H.A.C. Cemetery, more than 100 years after his death.”

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