British soldiers Private Christopher Douglas Elphick and Lieutenant John Harold Pritchard buried in France 96 years after killed in action in WWI

  • Remains of Lt John Harold Pritchard and Pte Christopher Douglas Elphick interred in Bullecourt, near Arras, northern France
  • Two other, as yet unidentified British soldiers were also laid to rest
  • Soldiers were from the Honourable Artillery Company and died in May 1917
  • French farmer clearing land with metal detector found their remains in 2009

By Peter Allen In Arras and Harriet Arkell

PUBLISHED: 05:41 EST, 23 April 2013 | UPDATED: 05:56 EST, 23 April 2013

Four British soldiers killed in action during the First World War were today finally being buried with full military honours in northern France.

The ceremony at the Ecoust-Saint-Mein cemetery, attended by Prince Michael of Kent, comes almost 100 years to the day since they lost their lives during the Battle of Arras.

Lieutenant John Harold Pritchard and Private Christopher Douglas Elphick, and two as yet unidentified British solders, died in a German offensive in May 1917, and their remains lay in a field near Arras until being discovered in 2009, by a French farmer clearing his land.

Lieutenant John Harold Pritchard, left, and Private Christopher Douglas Elphick, right, were killed in action

Farmer Didier Guerle, centre, stands with writer Philippe Duhamel, right, and historian Moise Dilly, left, near a British flag marking the spot where they found the soldiers' remains

Farmer Didier Guerle, centre, stands with writer Philippe Duhamel, right, and historian Moise Dilly, left, near a British flag marking the spot where they found the soldiers' remains

The soldiers were killed in the second battle of Bullecourt on the Hindenburg Line in the early hours of May 15, 1917.

The remains of their bodies lay undiscovered until French farmer Didier Guerle was using a metal detector to clear his fields of wartime ammunition four years ago.

Mr Guerle, who farms land at Bullecourt, had always been told by his father 'never to plough the bottom end of the north field'.  But he wanted to clear the land, and was using a metal detector with the help of his archaeologist friend Moise Dilly when he came across human remains.

Lt Pritchard, who was 31 when he died, was identified by a silver identity bracelet, and Elphick, 28, by a signet ring carrying his initials.

Both were in the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) and were among the first British soldiers to mobilise to France at the start of the war in 1914.

Lt Pritchard, who survived the Battle of the Somme, was the eldest of seven children and a former chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, who had sung at state occasions including royal weddings.

This Christmas postcard was sent by Pte Elphick, of the HAC, six months before he was killed in action in France

This Christmas postcard was sent by Pte Elphick, of the HAC, six months before he was killed in action in France

Last Christmas card: Pte Elphick expressed his hope that 1917 would 'bring us all together once more'

Last Christmas card: Pte Elphick expressed his hope that 1917 would 'bring us all together once more'

'Our tent leaks like blazes': A postcard from Lt John Harold Pritchard when he was based at Bulford Camp near Salisbury

'Our tent leaks like blazes': A postcard from Lt John Harold Pritchard when he was based at Bulford Camp near Salisbury

John Harold Pritchard was a chorister at St Paul's Cathedral in London before he joined the Army

John Harold Pritchard was a chorister at St Paul's Cathedral in London before he joined the Army

Historian Moise Dilly runs a metal detector over the spot in the field in Bullecourt, northern France, where the British soldiers' remains lay

Historian Moise Dilly runs a metal detector over the spot in the field in Bullecourt, northern France, where the British soldiers' remains lay

French farmer Didier Guerle shows a rusted rifle and pick-axe that he cleared from his field in 2009

French farmer Didier Guerle shows a rusted rifle and pick-axe that he cleared from his field in 2009

Pte Elphick, a London insurance clerk, joined up in 1915, three months after the birth of his son, Ronald Douglas, who went on to serve in the HAC during the Second World War.

Mr Douglas's sons, Chris and Martin Elphick, were due to attend today’s ceremony, while the Pritchard family were to be represented by his nephew Harold Shell and great nieces Janet Shell and Jennifer Sutton.

Prince Michael of Kent, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is Royal Honorary Colonel of the HAC.

The remains of two other soldiers were discovered but have yet to be identified.  DNA samples have been taken from them, and they were to be interred as ‘HAC soldiers known unto God.’

Mr Guerle also found the shell of a World War One gas bomb near the remains of the British soldiers

Mr Guerle also found the shell of a World War One gas bomb near the remains of the British soldiers

The French farmer was clearing his fields of old ammunition with a metal detector when he found the human remains

The French farmer was clearing his fields of old ammunition with a metal detector when he found the human remains

By Staff 04/22/2013 23:33:00