Bournemouth University

School of Conservation Sciences

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Researcher identifies missing WWI soldier

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Private Alan Mather Private Alan Mather

The remains of an Australian soldier, believed missing since World War I, have been identified thanks to the forensic skills of BU researcher Marie-Christine Dussault.

Private Alan James Mather from New South Wales was one of 216,000 men from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, who fought in the Battle of Messines in West Flanders, Belgium from 7-14 June, 1917. After the war, Pte Mather was listed as missing along with more than 6,000 other Australian soldiers whose names appear on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium.

Private Mather’s remains were originally discovered in 2008 at Ploegsteert, Belgium along with a significant amount of equipment, clothing and badges which provided a possible link with the Australian infantry.

Dussault, a PhD student in forensic science at BU, examined the skeleton as part of an international team at the request of the Australian Department of Defence and the British Ministry of Defence. Using morphological traits she was able to help determine the gender, age and height of the person concerned. She also examined the skeleton for signs of pathology and trauma, discovering that he had trauma to the torso that was indicative of a shell blast.

“Fragments of shell were located within the remains, corroborating the physical evidence from the skeleton,” Dussault explained. “My analysis was combined with isotope analysis, which had indicated what region the soldier may have been from. This helped to narrow down the potential identifications and permitted a narrower scope for DNA collection and subsequent identification.

“I feel extremely honoured to have been a participant in the identification of Pte Mather,” Dussault concluded. “It is gratifying to know that my work contributed positively to a family being able to bury their loved one with deserved military honours and for them to have the opportunity to attend in Belgium.”

Members of the Australian Army will bury Private Mather with full military honours alongside his comrades at the Prowse Point Military Cemetery in Belgium on 22 July, 2010.

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