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Scottish sailor buried in France 101 years after dying on the Western Front

12 July 2018
RN Chaplain Andrew Hillier leads a Royal Navy burial party as a sailor is laid to rest with full military honours – 101 years after he was killed on the Western Front.

Able Seaman James Cameron Robertson from Aberdeen died in the mud and carnage of the Battle of Arras in April 1917.

For a century, the fate of the 28-year-old former shop assistant was unknown. He was last seen in the trenches of the Anson Battalion, Royal Naval Division, on the edge of the village of Gavrelle.

His body was never found and the only memorial to the sailor, who fought in Gallipoli and on the Somme with the division of sailors-turned-soldiers, was on the monument to the missing in Arras, where nearly 35,000 Commonwealth troops who have no known grave are listed.

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.

Steve Arnold

However, 18 months after his body was found by accident by workmen, the sailor was laid to rest with his comrades at Orchard Dump Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery following painstaking research and help from the his family – who had no idea the sailor even existed, for his loss was never talked about.

Rev Hillier led the service of rededication, attended by a party of bearers and a 12-strong firing party from today’s Royal Navy, AB Robertson’s family, led by his 81-year-old nephew Frank Treasurer, and the team involved in identifying the sailor’s body so that his grave could be marked with a formal headstone: Lost at Gavrelle, France. May his soul and the souls of his comrades rest in peace.

“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,” said Steve Arnold of the CWGC.

“We will care for his grave here at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Orchard Dump Cemetery forever.”

AB Robertson’s skeleton was discovered with various items of Royal Naval Division equipment and markings: an Anson Battalion shoulder title, bullets, buckles, buttons, a spoon and mess tin and a pair of boots.

It fell to the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre – which deals not merely with present-day deaths in service, but historic cases – to try to identify it.

The recovered bones allowed 90 per cent of a body to be reconstructed, revealing a man aged between 25 and 35 who was roughly 5ft 2½ins (1.6m) tall.

Checking those details against casualties the Ansons suffered at the end of April, Nicola Nash narrowed the body’s identity down to either AB Andrew Irvine or AB Robertson.

That prompted an appeal for relatives in the sailors’ hometowns (Glasgow and Aberdeen respectively) and DNA tests which confirmed the body was that of the Aberdonian.

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