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Northumberland Fusilier among war dead given proper burial

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AN UNKNOWN Northumberland Fusilier is one of 20 British soldiers killed in action during the First World War who were today laid to rest with full military honours, almost 100 years after they died.

The soldiers who died in the Battle of Loos in 1915 were found in 2010 during clearance work for new buildings near Vendin-le-Vieil, north of Arras, France.

Only one of the 20 troops discovered has been identified - Private William McAleer, of the 7th Battalion the Royal Scottish Fusiliers, part of the 45th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division.

Born in Leven, Fife, 22-year-old Pte McAleer died shortly after the battle began, and he was identified due to his identity disc being found with his body.

It is understood that the young soldier’s family emigrated to the United States, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

Pte McAleer’s relatives will be represented at the service at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Loos-en-Gohelle near Lens by his great step-nephew.

Among the other soldiers who died during the fierce battle were the Northumberland Fusilier, another six Royal Scottish Fusiliers, and a member of the York and Lancaster Regiment.

In addition, there were two Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, and nine others whose regiment has not been identified.

Those unidentified will be re-interred as soldiers “Known unto God”.

The 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 Scots) will accord full military honours, and representatives from the other regiments will also attend.

The Battle of Loos began on September 25, 1915, and was the largest conflict for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the war to that time.

The opening was noted for the first use of poison gas by the British Army.

The attack at Loos consisted of six divisions before ammunition and heavy artillery had been sufficiently stocked.

It began in what was referred to at the time as the “Big Push”, with more than 30,000 Scottish soldiers taking part in the attack.

Initial success for the division soon ground to a halt, with reserves too far behind to make a significant impact, making it impossible to build on the early gains.

Although the British had broken into enemy lines, they could not break through.

Pte McAleer and the 19 other British troops were found near Hill 70, the scene of bitter fighting in the first two days of battle.

On September 25 1915, Pte McAleer’s battalion had reached Hill 70 to the east of Loos, and dug in behind the crest line.

They fought off a German counter-attack during the night, before being ordered to attack a German redoubt the following morning.

Although they entered the enemy trenches, after fierce hand-to-hand fighting they were forced to retreat to their start positions.

They were then subjected to heavy artillery bombardment, which led to their withdrawal later after two unsuccessful bids by 21 Division to join up had failed.

Records of the 7th Battalion the Royal Scots Fusiliers showed that in just two days of battle, 69 died, 258 were wounded and 181 were missing.

By the end of September, it was clear that the hoped-for breakthrough was not going to materialise, with huge losses being sustained.

The Loos Memorial, near where the 15th (Scottish) Division went into action, carries the names of more than 20,000 missing from the battle.

 

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