Every Name A Story Content

Unknown Soldier, 1939-45

Photo: James Pasby

Durham Chronicle

Photo: Dorothy Hall

In All Saints Churchyard is a Commonwealth War Grave headstone which reads:

A Soldier
of the
1939 - 1945
Buried 6th June 1940

Known unto God

2019 slate at rear of headstone:-

Lest We Forget
and Honouring Real
Heroes who gave
their lives so we
could live ours

The Durham Chronicle 21/12/1945 tells the story and partly explains the mix-up:

It seems that a soldier died on a hospital ship from Dunkirk. Somehow, two education certificates were found on his body which actually belonged to William Bolton, and so it was assumed that the body was of William Bolton. What has never been explained is how these papers came to be on the dead man. The authorities informed the Boltons of their son's supposed death, and the sealed coffin was brought to the Boltons' door. Nobody expressed a wish to see the body, which would have exposed the error immediately.

The Durham Chronicle 15/06/1978 repeats the story as follows:

"Two men and a woman stand at the graveside at All Saints Church, Langley Park, in a unique and moving ceremony. For one of them it was like coming back from the dead. The ceremony featured in the Tyne-Tees Television news programme 'Northern Life' last week, marked the rededication of the grave as "that of an unknown soldier" on the 38th anniversary of his burial on June 6, 1940. The only similar grave of an unknown soldier in Britain is in Westminster Abbey. The three people in the picture by the graveside Bill Boulton (right) now living at Seaton, Cumbria, his brother Bob of Langley Park and their sister Mrs. Edna Sample of Peterlee took part in the rededication.

At that same graveside on June 6 1940, 38 years ago, a full military funeral was held for the burial of Bill Boulton himself who was supposed to have died on a troopship returning from Dunkirk. The coffin containing the soldier's remains was unopened before the ceremony.

Two weeks later dispatch rider Bill Boulton, escorting a convoy from Farnham, Surrey, to Northern ireland via Stranraer drove up to his front door in Langley Park after being given permission to visit his family en route.

He was met by horrified stares from local villagers and when he reached his home his sister Edna was dumbfounded when he opened the door.

The headstone on the grave was subsequently altered to read: "A Soldier of the 1939-45 War. Known unto God".

Last week in a service held at the request of The Fellowship of the Services, the grave was re-dedicated by the Rev. David Garrett, Vicar of All Saints and the Rev. Malcolm Peach of Sunderland as "that of an unknown soldier".

In the 1945 article the surname is spelled "Bolton". In the 1978 report the name is given as "Boulton".

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk