News story

Grave of Donegal soldier identified in France more than 100 years after his death

The grave of Company Quartermaster Serjeant (CQMS) John Doherty MM (Military Medal), who went missing in France on 22 March 1918, has been identified.

The Rev Jason Clarke MBE CF, Chaplain to 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, conducts the rededication service for CQMS Doherty (Crown Copyright)

A rededication service was held today, 9 July 2024, at the graveside of CQMS John Doherty MM in Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Savy British Cemetery, near Saint Quentin, France. 

The location was discovered after the soldier’s great-great-nephew submitted evidence to CWGC hoping to identify his final resting place. Further research by CWGC, the National Army Museum and Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) confirmed his findings. 

The service was attended by members of the extended Doherty family, who travelled from the UK and Ireland to pay their respects. It was organised by the MOD’s JCCC, also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, and was attended by serving soldiers of The Royal Irish Regiment. 

The service is attended by serving members of 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment and members of the extended Doherty family (Crown Copyright)

Chris Doherty, great nephew of CQMS Doherty said: 

My grandfather William survived the war. His brothers John, Daniel and James all gave their lives so we could live ours free, but William ensured that their names would never be forgotten. On behalf of the Doherty family, we wish to thank and acknowledge the hard work and dedication of Rosie Barron, the JCCC War Detectives and their colleagues at the CWGC, who have given myself and my family the privilege of being present today at the rededication of the final resting place of our Grand Uncle, in this beautiful setting and in the company of his comrades, some of whom he will have lived, fought and died with. 

Chris Doherty lays flowers at his great uncle's grave in Savy British Cemetery (Crown Copyright)

On the morning of 21 March 1918, the German Army launched Operation Michael, the first phase of its spring offensive, with the aim of defeating allies in the west before the arrival of American troops. When the attack commenced, 1st Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were located at Le Hamel, southwest of Saint Quentin. They were ordered up to the battle area and remained in their positions under intense shellfire. 

On 22 March 1918, the company was attacked and forced back with heavy casualties. Around 40 men - all that remained of the battalion - continued fighting the German Army. By the end of the day more than 500 men were missing. CQMS Doherty, aged 36, was among them. He was commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial. 

JCCC Caseworker, Rosie Barron, said: 

It has been a privilege to work with The Royal Irish Regiment to organise the rededication service for CQMS Doherty. His family suffered heavily following World War One, with 3 sons missing after serving with The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. For their widowed mother, this loss must have been profound. It has therefore been fitting to have so many of their family in attendance today to celebrate the life of CQMS Doherty and his brothers, and honour their sacrifice.

The service was conducted by the Reverend Jason Clarke MBE CF, Chaplain to 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment. He said: 

Today we rededicate this grave, and acknowledge by name CQMS John Doherty. In so doing, we honour his memory and give thanks for his example of courage to the end. In the horror of such terrible fighting, he was faithful and true, fighting alongside his men and giving his life in the defence of others.

The headstone over the grave was replaced by CWGC.  

Xavier Puppinck, France Area Director Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), said:  

It is a privilege to care for the grave of CQMS John Doherty MM. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is dedicated to ensuring that this serviceman, who made the ultimate sacrifice, is remembered with the dignity and respect he deserves. We are committed to ensuring his memory lives on in perpetuity, providing a place of reverence and respect for generations to come.

Published 9 July 2024