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Objects and Stories – The Missing Officer

The Third Battle of the Scarpe near Arras in Northern France over the 3/4 May 1917

The Third Battle of the Scarpe near Arras in Northern France over the 3/4 May 1917 resulted in the British Army suffering nearly 6,000 men killed for little gain. The official history of the engaged Corps stated:

“The confusion caused by the darkness; the speed with which the German artillery opened fire; the manner in which it concentrated upon the British infantry, almost neglecting the artillery; the intensity of its fire, the heaviest that many an experienced soldier had ever witnessed, seemingly unchecked by British counter-battery fire and lasting almost without slackening for fifteen hours; the readiness with which the German infantry yielded to the first assault and the energy of its counter-attack; and, it must be added, the bewilderment of the British infantry on finding itself in the open and its inability to withstand any resolute counter-attack.”

It was into this nightmarish, terrifying and bloody battlefield over open ground towards a windswept ridge called the hillside works near the small village of Vis en Artois that the men of the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry attacked the enemy holding a well-established and fortified trench system. In addition to losses from artillery, the Battalion sustained heavy casualties from accurate machine gun fire and snipers, encountering an unexpected, well manned and heavily wired trench that they occupied at great cost. The survivors were forced to withdraw back to their original positions after a series of strong enemy counter-attacks and when they observed troops to their right retiring. 8 of the 12 officers and 291 of the 523 non-commissioned officers and men who went into action were listed as killed, wounded or missing that day including two young Second Lieutenants who were never found.

96 years later, a local farmer was digging in his private garden in the village of Henin sur Cojeul following storm damage caused by heavy rains when he discovered the remains of a body. Once the local gendarmerie had officially declared the find could not be of any criminal interest it became a case of trying to identify a missing soldier. In due course it was established that the remains were from an officer of the Battalion following the discovery of a regimental button and from the quality of remnants of his uniform. Extensive research proved to be inconclusive and sadly, despite attempts to obtain a DNA match, to date it had not been possible to identify the officer by name and he was buried last year with dignity with his comrades in arms.

 

A Pocket Watch

A Torch with Battery and a Pocket Knife

Regimental Buttons and a Trench Whistle

The unknown officer was reburied last year with dignity and now finally lies with his comrades in arms. On the 17th May 2016 the artefacts were handed over to the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum by the Ministry of Defence Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre as a reminder of the sacrifice made by so many and in the hope that descendants of the missing officers will come forward. 

Second Lieutenant John Legge Bulmer

Could the remains be those of John Legge Bulmer from North Yorkshire.

Born on the 18th September, 1894, the third son of Rev. Edward Bulmer and Elizabeth, née North of Filey, North Yorkshire. He was educated at Marlborough College where is was a Senior Scholar and Head of the Classical Sixth. He won a Postmastership at Merton College, Oxford, where he went with a leaving exhibition from Marlborough in 1913. He knew the essayist and poet, T.S. Eliot while at Merton.

John volunteered for service in October 1915 and went to  France in May 1916, commissioned into the 4th Battalion, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He was wounded in September and invalided home. In January 1917 he re-joined his regiment and on the 3rd May, 1917 he commanded his men in the right company of the first wave attacking a trench. At the end of the battle he was reported missing and was never found, presumed killed aged only 22.
Are the remains those of John Bulmer?  

 

Second Lieutenant Charles Croke Harper

Or could they be of Charles Croke Harper of Broughton in Buckinghamshire?

Born on the 18th June, 1879 in Barningham Winter, Norfolk , the son of Reverend Edward James and Frances Wetherall Harper of Broughton Rectory, Newport Pagnall Buckinghamshire. Charles had two brothers, Francis and Lionel and four sisters, Margaret,Mabel, Constance and Grace.
He worked as a clerk and chartered accountant and a farmer in Ongerup in Western Australia before the Great War.
Returning to the U.K. ,Charles was commissioned into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry from the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps on the 7th of October 1915 into the 3rd Battalion before being attached to the 5th Battalion.

He was leading a bombing party in the second wave and was reported missing at the end of the battle and never found aged 36. Are the remains those of Charles Croke Harper? As a postscript, a plaque was raised in his memory by his friends within the Anglican Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia. Could somebody there help identify the remains?
  

A second mystery is that the body was found approximately nine kilometres from the battlefield. In the confusion and fog of battle, was the young officer wounded and taken to a medical aid station by men of the neighbouring brigade then buried when he died, how did he come to be there, we may never know?

There is also a chance that the remains are from a young officer called Wordsworth ( a direct descendent of the poet) who had transferred from the Regiment and was serving with a machine gun battalion in the general area. Could he have been wearing his old uniform in the battle ?

The story is not yet over as the museum has received a letter written by John Legge Bulmer and we are hoping that there is sufficient DNA under the seal to discover if the remains are his? The search for the identity of one of our officers is far from over.



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