Australia

Two Australian diggers finally laid to rest after 100 years

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The remains of Lance Corporal James Leonard Rolls and Private Hedley Roy Macbeth were discovered only recently.

After a week of Armistice Day commemorations on the Western Front, Australian troops and Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove have carried out one final, important duty.

Two diggers, killed during World War One and found only recently, have been given a full military funeral.

Unlike many similar cases, the soldiers were identified, allowing their descendants to pay their respects.

(Right of Bride) Lance Corporal James Leonard Rolls
(Right of Bride) Lance Corporal James Leonard Rolls attends his sister's wedding and stands next to his sister, the bride.

Lance Corporal James Leonard Rolls came from Melbourne and was married with a daughter. He quit the family drapery business to fight for King and country.

His grandniece Irene Darby says she was delighted when told his remains had been found.

“It’s wonderful, he’s been missing for so long,” she told SBS News. “To think that at last he’s having the opportunity to be buried properly, to get full military honours, is wonderful.”

It’s wonderful, he’s been missing for so long.

Private Hedley Roy Macbeth was born in Launceston. He left behind a wife and two young children. Four of his cousins would also perish in the conflict.

Private Hedley Roy Macbeth.
Private Hedley Roy Macbeth.
SBS

His great-grandson supplied DNA to help confirm the digger’s identity.

“They fought in the trenches, lay there for 101 years before they were found,” Rob Macbeth said.

“He’s going to be laid to rest with the comrades he died with.”

They lay there for 101 years before they were found.

Lance Corporal Rolls and Private Macbeth were both in the 24th infantry battalion. They were killed during the Second Battle of Bullecourt, in the in the Hauts-de-France region in France, when an artillery shell exploded in their dugout near a railway embankment.

Their mates knew the men had been killed, but their bodies were never recovered.

“Season after season, year after year, they rested and waited,” said Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove during his speech at the service.

“If ever there were brothers in arms, it was them.”

The pair were buried with full military honours.
The pair were buried with full military honours.
SBS

It wasn’t until May 2015 their remains were found, by members of the public.

The discovery led to a difficult and lengthy investigation. Military records and DNA testing confirmed the identities of the men.

For the families, it means a great deal.

“You never expect he is going to be found, given the circumstances surrounding the missing in the First World War,” Mrs Darby said.

“It was just unbelievable they found him and he turned out to be my uncle.”

Lance Corporal James Leonard Rolls and Private Hedley Roy.
Left (next to bride): Lance Corporal James Leonard Rolls, and right, marked, Private Hedley Roy.
SBS

The soldiers were buried with full military honours. They will rest side by side in the Queant Road Cemetary, east of Arras.

Mrs Darby the service has brought closure to both families.

“We understand that they were mates, and it’s just wonderful that they’ve both been recovered, and they’ll both lie side by side in the cemetery.”

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