James Alexander (Alex) WEIR


WEIR, James Alexander

Service Number: 4146
Enlisted: 24 July 1916, Adelaide St, Brisbane
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 31st Infantry Battalion
Born: Albion Park, New South Wales, Australia, December 1888
Home Town: Clunes, Lismore Municipality, New South Wales
Schooling: Foxground Public School, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation: Storeman
Died: Mortar shell, head and shoulder wound, Polygon Wood, Belgium, 27 September 1917
Cemetery: Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial
Plot LX, Row K, Grave 18, Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele, Flanders, Belgium
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Lismore & District Memorial Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

24 Jul 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 4146, 31st Infantry Battalion, Adelaide St, Brisbane
21 Oct 1916: Involvement Private, SN 4146, 31st Infantry Battalion, Third Ypres
21 Oct 1916: Embarked Private, SN 4146, 31st Infantry Battalion, HMAT Boonah, Brisbane

The Men Who Made the Cemeteries

"...The story starts soon after the start of the First World War and, in large part, is down to the work of one man, Fabian Ware. He arrived in France in September 1914, too old to serve in the Army, instead he commanded a mobile Red Cross unit. He soon identified that there was no official process for documenting or marking the location of the graves of those who had been killed. To fill this void he and his mobile unit undertook the task. Ware’s work was quickly given official recognition and the unit was transferred to the British Army as the Graves Registration Commission in 1915. As the work of grave registration became known to the public at home, the Commission began receiving letters and requests from relatives for photographs of graves, which it duly began to provide. As a result, in 1916, the Graves Registration Commission was renamed the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries. Its remit was also extended beyond the Western Front and into other theatres of war including Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia. As the war progressed Ware and others became concerned about the future of the graves after the war, which led to the formation of the Imperial War Graves Commission in 1917 (updated to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the 1960s).

The work continued through to the end of the war and on into the 1920s with the recovery of bodies, concentration of some of the smaller cemeteries into larger ones and the building of large permanent memorials such as the ones at Thiepval on the Somme and the Menin Gate in Ypres.
Graves Resistration Unit
A Graves Registration Unit in France or Belgium, probably after the end of the First World War ©Jeremy Gordon-Smith, via the IWM

This work was crucial in helping the grieving process for those hundreds of thousands of families who had lost loved ones. Some years ago I came across a grave in Tyne Cot Cemetery in the Ypres Salient. Unlike so many in that cemetery, this one had a name on it, Private James Weir, 31st Battalion, Australian Infantry, AIF. It also had an intriguing epitaph ‘The Lord Gave And The Lord Hath Taken Away’. So out of interest I decided to trace Private Weir and to see if I could find out more about him. In doing so I uncovered a tragic tale, but one that probably mirrored many thousands more.

Private Weir was killed on 27 September 1917, during the bloody Third Battle of Ypres, and was buried in a battlefield cemetery somewhere in the area of Polygon Wood. However, the grave appears to have been lost and even as late as the summer of 1921 the family, in Australia, were writing to the authorities to find to where the grave was. Eventually the grave was located, the body exhumed and concentrated with many others in Tyne Cot Cemetery, and in October 1921 the family were sent photographs of the grave. Nonetheless it is hard in these days of instant communication and rapid travel to imagine the anguish his family went through for four years, not knowing where he was buried...."

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