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West Yorkshire soldier who died in First World War to have grave restored

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The grave of a West Yorkshire soldier who died in a German prisoner of war camp during the First World War is being restored, 100 years after the start of the conflict.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is rebuilding all 39 British soldier graves at the cemetery at Lidzbark Warminski in northern Poland, including the erection of new headstones.

The work, which started last week, will be followed by a re-dedication ceremony expected to be attended by some of the men’s families.

The 39 men died while being held in the camp in a region later ceded to Poland after the Second World War.

One of the British prisoners was 19-year-old Private Frank Bower, from the West Riding of Yorkshire.

According to the Western Front Association, he was born in Huddersfield in March 1899 and joined the army in April 1917.

He and the others were buried in a local cemetery which was marked with a traditional Cross of Sacrifice and headstones by the CWGC after the war.

But in the 1960s, the site deteriorated and the commission decided to commemorate the men at Malbork Commonwealth War Cemetery in northern Poland.

Now, as the world marks the centenary of the start of the First World War, the cemetery is being rebuilt.

With access to the site now possible, and with support from the Commune of Lidzbark Warminski, a team from the CWGC’s Belgian operation has travelled to Poland to work on the cemetery at Lidzbark.

The commission also launched an appeal to track down relatives of the men, prompting a number of families to come forward who will be able to attend a re-dedication ceremony planned for May.

At the ceremony, a new visitor information panel will also be installed at the cemetery, giving any visitors to the site more information about it.

A CWGC spokesman said: “The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is delighted that work has started to restore these graves - a task that would have been impossible without the generous support of the local authorities and community.

“It is extremely gratifying that the CWGC Lidzbark Warminski War Cemetery will once more become a fitting tribute to the men whose sacrifice is honoured here.”

The men are believed to have died between August and December 1918 at Heilsberg prisoner of war camp in the east of Germany - the region was ceded to Poland after the Second World War and Heilsberg is now Lidzbark Warminski.

Pte Bower was eventually posted overseas just after his 19th birthday in April 1918, joining the 22nd Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, which was in the Houplines sector, near Armentieres.

But he saw no fighting, and was admitted to a hospital or casualty clearing station on April 9 suffering from a poisoned stomach.

He was taken prisoner and the next his parents heard was a report saying he was missing “between April 11 and April 14”.

According to the Western Front Association, it was not until early June that Pte Bower’s parents received a field postcard from him saying he had been made a prisoner and was at Limburg on the Lahn in Germany.

In October, he was moved from Friedrichsfeld in the west of Germany to the Heilsberg camp, about 80 miles east of the city of Dantzig, now Gdansk, where he died on October 29.

Pte Bower was buried at Heilsberg Prisoner of War Cemetery in Germany - now Lidzbark Warminski in Poland - which contained several thousand burials, mainly of Russians and other eastern Europeans who had died, as PoWs.

They included just 39 British prisoners, who were commemorated in the 1930s by the then Imperial War Graves Commission until the 1960s when it became clear the site could not be properly maintained.

After several decades being commemorated at Malbork Commonwealth War Cemetery, the men will each have their own headstone grouped in a special memorial plot, with a marker stone at the site.

 

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