Flemish team solves Ypres Salient mystery

The remains of Henry John Innes Walker of New Zealand, a Captain serving in the First World War, have been discovered in Langemark-Poelkapelle (West Flanders). It is exceptional that the remains of a person who perished in the Great War can be identified.

It was a team of the VRT television programme "Onder Vlaamse velden" ("Underneath Flanders Fields") that made the discovery. In this new series, presenter Arnout Hauben gets to work as an archaeologist. He is taught the skills by a special team.

Excavations reveal the remains of 45 soldiers. The remains of one of them, turn out to have been preserved particularly well. The victim died in an area that was the scene of heavy fighting in the first days after the gas attack of 22 April 1915. Several objects are found on the body, such as a medaillon and binoculars.

Human bone analyses and further research reveal that the person is Captain Henry John Innes Walker, a New Zealander who fought with the British army. Records show that Walker died on 25 April 1915, which happens to be ANZAC Day, the day on which Australia and New Zealand (and other countries) remember their citizens who served and died in the war.

"Excavations exceeded our expectations"

The excavations are being done close to the city of Ieper where some of the heaviest fighting took place some 100 years ago. The work is being carried out before a major pipeline for natural gas will be installed. This area concerned runs as a big line in the landscape right through the Ypres Salient. The excavations were poised to yield a lot of results, although even specialists were surprised by what they found.

The documentary makers of "De Chinezen" asked a team of archaeologists and diggers to help them with excavations. A lot of human bones are found, but almost none can be identified. Until that special discovery, that included various personal belongings. The big question was: who was this person? "If you can find a name, all this gets a face, family, a home country etc.", explains Arnout Hauben.

'Onder Vlaamse Velden' runs every Monday shortly after 9pm on the VRT's first channel, Eén.