Express & Star

Grave of Wolverhampton soldier killed in Second World War is identified nearly 80 years after he went missing

The grave of a Wolverhampton soldier has been identified in Normandy nearly 80 years after he went missing.

Shirley Steeples, the sister of Trooper Cheshire, stands at her brother's graveside with the military party and local representatives

Trooper (Tpr) Robert John Cheshire, aged 20, served with 23rd Hussars, part of The Royal Armoured Corps.

A rededication service, organised by the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), also known as the ‘MOD War Detectives’, was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery in France yesterday.

Tpr Robert John Cheshire was born in Wolverhampton on April 2, 1924.

He was the eldest of six children, and the only son born to John Cheshire and his wife Florence Ida.

Before enlisting on September 18, 1942, he worked as a sausage casings manufacturer.

Tpr Cheshire completed his preliminary training in Worcester and on December 16, 1942, he joined The Royal Armoured Corps and was posted to 23rd Hussars on May 18, 1943.

He later qualified as a Gunner Mechanic in July 1943.

Tpr Robert John Cheshire

After the D Day landings on June 6, 1944, and the success of Operation Overlord, 23rd Hussars embarked at Gosport on June 15, arriving in Normandy the following day.

On August 14, 1944, Operation Tractable began, with the aim of capturing the town of Falaise, and encircling the German Army in the Falaise Pocket.

On August 19, the day before Tpr Cheshire’s death, the Falaise Gap was finally closed trapping the German 7th Army with 200,000 men, 200 tanks, 1,000 artillery pieces and 5,000 vehicles encircled.

Having harboured at Sentilly the night before, at 10am on August 20, 1944, 23rd Hussars advanced to Occagnes.

At 11.10am, Number 2 Troop of B Squadron lost a Sherman V tank and three carriers.

Guardsman Ryan Day of 1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards, presents a Union Flag to Shirley Steeples, the sister of Trooper Cheshire

By midday, they had established their Regimental Headquarters in Occagnes.

That evening their advance continued eastwards but 23rd Hussars lost two men that day – Tpr Cheshire and Tpr John Harold Insley.

Rosie Barron, JCCC case lead, said: “The rededication service held for Tpr Robert John Cheshire reminds us of just how young many of those who lost their lives during the Second World War were.

"The fighting in Normandy in 1944 which followed D Day is an often overlooked period of the war, but it saw fierce fighting as the allies slowly pushed out from landing beaches and captured the major ports.

"The closing of the Falaise Gap was a key turning point in the Normandy campaign. Without men such as Tpr Cheshire, who paid the ultimate price for his country, the liberation of Europe would not have been achieved.”

After the war, the remains of two soldiers were found buried alongside each other in Occagnes.

The service was conducted by the Rev Martin Robbins CF, Chaplain to 1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards

They were reburied in Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery.

One man was identified as Tpr Insley, but the other simply as a soldier of The Royal Armoured Corps killed in August 1944.

As he was missing, Tpr Cheshire was commemorated on the Bayeux Memorial. The second soldier has now been shown to be him.

The grave of Tpr Cheshire was identified after a researcher submitted evidence to CWGC, hoping to have located his grave.

Further research was carried out by the National Army Museum and JCCC and the identification of the grave was confirmed.

Tpr Cheshire’s niece, Gillian Dear, attended the rededication service along with other family members.

Ms Dear said: “We are pleased to be present today to represent Robert's parents and siblings who have themselves passed away not knowing where their beloved Robert lies. So on behalf of his surviving sister, Josie, and his family that he didn't get to meet, we say 'Goodbye' Rob and rest finally in peace’.”

The service was also attended by serving soldiers of The Royal Armoured Corps and The Coldstream Guards.

The service was conducted by the Reverend Martin Robbins, Chaplain to 1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards.

The Reverend Robbins said: “It has been an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to lay to rest Trooper Cheshire. To recognise and give thanks for his service and sacrifice in the presence of his sister and extended family. He now lies with his brothers in arms.”

Xavier Puppinck, Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) director of France, said: “We are deeply honoured to rededicate Tpr Robert John Cheshire's grave.

"The CWGC is committed to commemorating Commonwealth servicemen and women, ensuring their memory lives on. We thank the MOD's JCCC and all involved for bringing closure to his family. His grave will be cared for by the CWGC in perpetuity, reaffirming our commitment to remember and honour those who gave their all for freedom."