Hand-made tag offers clue to identity of First World War soldier

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A DOG tag has provided a vital clue to the identity of a Scottish soldier whose remains were uncovered on a First World War battlefield in northern France.

The skeleton of the soldier, believed to be Corporal William Gunn of the 15th Battalion, Royal Scots, was found last month by archaeologists digging for Roman and Celtic artefacts on the outskirts of the town of Arras.

On his body they found the badly damaged non-regulation dog tag which still bears his name, service number, unit and religion.

Unlike the British Army-issue tags of the time, which were made from compacted cardboard, Gunn’s is made of metal in the pattern used by the French army. Experts believe he bought it blank from a market trader and then engraved it himself as he whiled away the hours between action in the trenches.

“It is highly unusual to find such a dog tag,” said Alain Jacques, Arras’s city archaeologist whose team uncovered the remains.

“Standard British dog tags have normally rotted away by now, or they were collected by comrades at the time of the battle, so when we find soldiers’ remains we cannot normally identify them. But in this case the identity is clear. I believe there is no doubt that we have found the remains of Cpl William Gunn.

“It is known that British soldiers bought their own metal tags and engraved them themselves and I believe that is what happened. From the fact that we found the tag under his hand, I believe that he was wearing the tag round his wrist as the French soldiers used to.”

According to records kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Gunn, a 38-year-old Glaswegian, died on Monday, 9 April, 1917, on the first day of the Battle of Arras which lasted for more than a month and led to 84,000 British and 75,000 German casualties.

His name is commemorated on the wall of the Lutyens memorial in Arras along with 35,942 British soldiers.

The French archaeological team found his body wrapped in a tarpaulin groundsheet.

His right foot was missing, his left arm was broken and pieces of shell casing were found in the upper half of his skeleton. His remains are now at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission depot at Beaurains near Arras.

If his identity is confirmed by the MoD, attempts will be made to trace relatives and a funeral held.

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