Grave of Fallen World War I Soldier Discovered 100 Years after death

The grave of 2nd Lieutenant Reuben Parkes who served in the 34th Australian Infantry Battalion has finally been found, 100 years after his death. The discovery was a joint effort of Non-Profit organization Fallen Diggers and the Unrecovered War Casualties-Army (UWC-A) of the Australian Army.

Reuben Parkes, 34 years old, enlisted on 24 February 1916 in the 53rd Battalion, 3rd Reinforcement and embarked on June 23, 1916 on the HMAT A37 Barambah. Serving on the Western Front, as commanding officer of the No. 4 Platoon, “A” Company of the 34th Australian Infantry Battalion, he found his death at Villers-Brettoneux on March 30th, 1918.

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Officer Corps of the 34th Battalion at Meteren. Reuben Parkes first on the left, back-row.
Officer Corps of the 34th Battalion at Meteren. Reuben Parkes first on the left, back-row. (Credits: Australian War Memorial – E01465)

A few eyewitnesses stated later for the Australian Red Cross Society:

On the 30th March 1918 we were at Hangard Wood. We attacked at 7 p.m.. We got about 1000 yards and dug in. Before we had got so far the Lieut was hit by M.G. and killed right out. We held te ground and the body was taken for burial but I do not know where.”, said Pte. S. Plummer.

Another witness was Flowers of the 34th, who said: “I saw him killed instantly, by M.G. bullet at Villers-Brettoneux on March 30th. He was wounded first, and I was taking his equipment off, when he was hit again, and killed instantly.

I was within 5 yds. of him when he was killed. We were attempting to rush a M.G. post on night of March 30th, 1 mile E. of Villers-Brettoneux. We were within 15 yds. of the M.G. post at that time. Heard him say “”I’m hit”. The whole attacking party, 8, were killed or wounded. His body was afterwards brought back. 200 yds. and buried under a big bank. I did not help to bury him, having been wounded, but I knew some of the men who buried him. Ground would now be held by the Germans.”, stated Sgt. Hatch of the 4th Platoon, A. Coy. 34th Battn.

His body was left for the night and buried the next morning however the Germans advanced over the next few days, securing ground. As the Germans too buried bodies of Australian fallen soldiers they came across, it caused problems for the Australian Army keeping records of the fallen or buried which added up to the list of missing soldiers.

Grave of Reuben Parkes found
2nd Lieut. Reuben Parkes, first on the left, back-row. (Credits: Australian War Memorial – E01465)

Shortly after the war his body was transferred to Hangard Wood Cemetery. Here he lied beneath a headstone, bearing an inscription “unknown Australian 2nd lieutenant”, indicated by rank insignia on his uniform. Reuben Parkes was commemorated as missing at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux.  

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The headstone will be replaced with one that finally honours Parkes during a rededication service in July 2019 in France. For his service during World War 1, 2nd Lt. Reuben Parkes was decorated with the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

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