I have never classed myself as an expert,( there are far too many of those out there) simply an enthusiast, with a passion for the Somme. I, like many others, find it a very emotional experience just walking the Battlefield, retracing the steps of men who fought and died on that ground. Like most people that visit the area, it is rewarding to bring home some kind of "trophy" however small and insignificant - every piece can tell a story. I had a very good teacher, Paul Reed who was the person that helped me to distinguish irregularities that occurred on the ground. I find Paul a mine of information, and a very interesting storyteller. On one of my many visits to the Somme I, along with a colleague, discovered an armourer's Lewis Gunner's kit, complete, in its leather satchel. We did have at first some difficulty in identifying some parts, but after a time, and with Paul's help, it was all identified correctly. "Knowing what to look for" as Paul put it, is half the battle. I have always been lucky with my finds, and I never thought that I would be able to "top" finding the Lewis kit, but oh how wrong I was.
In October 1998,walking the "crater" with a colleague, on the side opposite the cross, I noticed the shrubbery had freshly been removed, not expecting to find anything, because of the amount of tourists that visit the area, my eyes hopefully scanned the area. Brown stains on the earth do not usually attract my attention, because of the vast amount of shrapnel littering the whole area, but on this occasion I noticed some brass .303 cases lying on the top of the soil. I bent down, expecting to find another batch of ammunition, but noticed a boot heel plate lying beside them.
Scooping the earth carefully away revealed a boot, complete and in remarkably good condition, Only when I looked inside did I discover the bones were still in them. A little further down, and the other boot was discovered, along with various buckles from '14 pattern leather webbing. It didn't take long to realize that it was a complete body that had been found. Contrary to what people think, it was a very moving experience. It made me feel that the earth had simply just given him up. It was his time. Everything was left in place, and the ground recovered. After contacting Dominique, of "Le Tommy" at Poziers, then because of time factors we had to leave for home.
After a few weeks the CWGC in Beaurains France sent me a copy of the report on the excavation.
The exhumation was carried out on Tuesday 3rd November 1998,on the far side (from the entrance) of the Lochnager Crater on the flat ground beyond the rim, and the following items were recovered:
One human body consisting of broken skull, jawbone, teeth, vertebrae, limbs, ribs, pelvis, hands and feet. One pair of Army Boots, 100 bullets. One rifle, with bayonet wire cutters attatched, One rifle butt plate, Gas mask eye pieces, Two water bottles (one Canadian, One British) One pair of scissors, safety pin, food tin, one oil bottle, two pocket knives, one pipe mouthpiece, eight buckles/belt ends, 20 small buttons, one silver, hallmarked pen holder with inscription, one cap badge, and shoulder title TYNESIDE 3 SCOTTISH one folding cut throat razor inscribed G Nugent 1306.
George Nugent 22/1306
I have heard of many speculations as what was found on the body, but this is the official list. The body was then interred into Beaurains mortuary, awaiting identification.
At the time of the discovery, John Sheen along with Graham Stewart were working on a book following the history of the Tyneside Scottish Battalions, so the MOD asked for their help in identifying the remains, John, I know spent a lot of time researching the path to identifying George Nugent, and it is thanks to him that the fruits of his labour finally paid off.
Many articles have been written on the subject, especially in the north of England, I am surprised the amount of interest it has generated from the media, The BBC are currently filming a history series, where one program will be devoted to G Nugent. As far as I know it is due for transmission sometime in September 2000.
Nobody will ever know how he died, and what horrors he saw, but one thing is for certain, George Nugent will be given his just burial, with full military honours on 1st July 2000 at Ovillers cemetery in France, finally laid to rest, and I will be there.
Today, 2nd June ,the surviving family of George Nugent contacted me. The MOD has now confirmed that they are the direct descendants, and are making preparations to send them to France for the ceremony. It will be an honour to meet them, and I am looking forward to it immensely. It seems that everybody's hard work has paid off.
For a direct link to the author of this article, email John Brandon
Copyright © John Brandon, June, 2000
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