Military Monday: the missing soldier

A post from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reported burial services held in the Somme and Pas de Calais regions of France between 21 and 23 September for 13 unknown soldiers who lost their lives during World War One.

Sadly, “Despite extensive research carried out by the JCCC, none of the 13 men could be identified.” The JCCC is the UK Ministry of Defence Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre.

These days DNA is being recovered from human remains hundreds and thousands of years old. I wondered about the extent of the “extensive research.” 

The 2019 article Searching for the Missing Soldier: Identifying casualties from the First World War mentions an examination of 27 sets of human remains of WWI British casualties over a four-year period from twelve different sites across Belgium and northern France. There was a 100% success rate for the testing of hypervariable I and II markers of the control region of the mitochondrial genome and a 96% success rate of Y STR markers using Y23 obtaining profiles suitable for comparison. DNA identification was successful in identifying 10 of the 27 cases. The main challenging aspect with WWI identifications is the familial distance between the soldier who died in World War I and the relatives who are alive today.

Now there must have been considerable progress on DNA extraction and analysis since that research. Were others, besides the 13 mentioned in the CWGC release, found in the same time period who were identified? How sophisticated are present-day DNA techniques being used for missing soldier identification?

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