LIDZBARK WARMINSKI, Poland (AP) — Nearly a century after they died in Germany captivity during World War I, relatives and officials honored 39 British servicemen in a solemn ceremony Friday at their burial site in Poland.
The servicemen died in late 1918, toward the end of the war, from disease and ill treatment at the East Prussian prisoner camp in Heilsberg. Aged between 19 and 37, they were buried in a common grave in the town, which is now part of Poland and called Lidzbark Warminski.
Recent efforts by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission led to the ceremony at Lidzbark cemetery, where 39 white headstones were dedicated to the servicemen buried there. British Ambassador Robin Barnett and local governor Artur Jankowski led the ceremony, and 39 schoolchildren held grave lanterns lit by candles at each of the headstones.
More warfare and the resulting redrawing of borders, followed by decades of political divisions in Europe, complicated efforts made by the families and British remembrance groups to honor them properly at the burial site. Instead, their names were put on a memorial plaque in Malbork, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) away.
Information about the dead was collected by the Western Front Association, a British non-governmental organization that preserves the memory of World War I soldiers, and by Pauline Page-Jones, an amateur historian from the Welsh village of Llanfyllin, where one of the men came from.
Pvt. William Gordon Jones, 19, of The Durham Light Infantry, died of pneumonia at Heilsberg camp hospital on Oct.30, 1918, less than a year after joining the army. Jones' two nephews, John Gordon Jones, 68, and Owen Wyn Jones, 63, came from Llanfyllin, where the family still lives, with a poppy wreath. They were the first family members to be able to visit his burial site.
"It was very emotional and, my brother and I, we are very touched by it all," John Gordon Jones told The Associated Press. "We were able to pay respect to our uncle in this very much delayed ceremony. We are very grateful for this.
"The fallen should be remembered because they gave their lives for the rest of us, didn't they."