Fallen WW1 Soldier Identified Using Genetic Evidence

Battle of Verdun. French soldiers crawling through their own barbed wire entanglements as they begin an attack on enemy trenches. April-June, 1916. Everett Historical/Shutterstock

Over 100 years on since the Battle of Verdun, one of the bloodiest battles of World War One, scientists have pieced together the identity of a fallen French soldier using DNA samples from his relatives.

The soldier has now been laid to rest in his own tomb at Douaumont memorial in Verdun, French newspaper Le Figaro reports.

Sergeant Claude Fournier was killed in combat on August 4, 1916 at the age of 35. During construction work at Douaumont memorial in 2015, construction workers found a collection of boots, bayonets, bullets, helmets, a hip flask of mint liqueur, and the skeletons of three men.

Crucially, they also unearthed a dog tag belonging to Claude Fournier, which sparked the researchers to attempt to identify the body of the young sergeant.

"There are a whole series of small miraculous circumstances [that allowed] this beautiful story," Bruno Frémont, a medical examiner in Verdun, told AFP.

Douaumont ossuary and cemetery for First World War One soldiers who died at the Battle of Verdun. T.W. van Urk/Shutterstock

They started by trawling through military records in the hopes of finding a clue that linked the skeleton to the name, but to no avail. Eventually, they managed to track down Fournier’s 75-year-old grandson, Robert Allard, as well as an anonymous woman in her 80s who was also a relation. Using these two relatives, scientists were able to identify which of the three skeletons belonged to Fournier.

"Scientifically and historically, it's a success," Frémont told AFP. "On the human level, this is superb for Robert Allard, who will now have a grave for his grandfather."

Claude Fournier was born on November 27, 1880, in Colombier-en-Brionnais, eastern France. As a younger man, he worked as a gardener in Lyon and then enlisted in the army in 1900. When war was declared between the Allies and the Central Powers of Europe in 1914, he served in the frontline trenches along the Western Front.

He fought in the Battle of Verdun, one of the largest and longest battles of the First World War, as well as being one of the bloodiest battles in the whole of human history. Ultimately, it claimed the lives of 300,000 people over a period of 303 days.

On February 2018, exactly 102 years since this horrific battle begun, Claude Fournier was laid to rest at Douaumont memorial with full military honors.

While Fournier is the first French WW1 soldier to be identified using DNA, researchers have traced the identity of at least four British WW1 soldiers using genetic evidence. Just like Fournier, they were also given an official burial ceremony.


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