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Identity of marine finally discovered

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: January 22, 2014

  • Isabel Pope beside the grave of her grandfather William Whitmore, the 'unknown marine'.

  • FAMILY MAN: William Whitmore and wife Margaret at Kathleen's christening.

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AFTER almost 100 years the identity of an 'unknown marine' buried in Padstow has finally been discovered – thanks to weeks of painstaking research.

The quest to uncover the identity of Royal Marine William Whitmore began when Padstow Museum chairman John Buckingham contacted Sussex-based historian Peter Smith to discover more about two marines buried in a quiet corner of the cemetery.

One of the graves belongs to Royal Marine William Moore but the other was unmarked; although it was assumed the two were linked as they were both servicemen buried within weeks of each other.

"Researching the unnamed man would undoubtedly prove difficult; we had little to go on apart from a burial date on the headstone but we love a challenge," Mr Smith said.

Their research found that along with Moore, another marine – William Whitmore, born in Stoke-on-Trent – also died on the Anna Sofie, an armed merchantman sunk by a German submarine four miles west of Trevose Head on July 23, 1918.

This stretch of sea became the haunt of prowling German submarines during the Great War, earning it the nickname 'U-Boat Alley'.

The pair now had a link but no proof that Whitmore was the man buried, however, a breakthrough came thanks to the Cornish Guardian archives.

Using the burial date, the two found an inquest report dated August 23, 1918, which revealed that the body of a marine, identified as such by his clothing, had washed up at Tregudda Gorge a few miles from Trevose Head, just over three weeks after Anna Sofie sank.

The marine was given a funeral two days later by Padstow townsfolk and buried next to Moore.

The pair started by conducting a painstaking study of all Royal Marine casualties over the relevant period and determined that Whitmore's was the only body that could have washed up there and then, using factors such as time the body was in the sea, which the inquest estimated at eight to ten days, and ships that sank in the area in that time period.

A written account from a survivor, the last person to see Whitmore alive, also confirmed that the marine jumped overboard and disappeared in rough seas.

It should have been common sense for locals at the time that the body was Whitmore, as there were only two casualties but the inquest report gave Mr Buckingham and Mr Smith another crucial clue, a tattoo on the forearm which appeared to show the letter 'M' with the figure of a lady.

This matches Whitmore's Royal Marine service record and the story his wife Margaret always told Isabel Pope, the daughter of their first child, Kathleen.

"She told me that both she and William wanted a token of their love for each other to remain with them always," Isabel said. While his wife's tattoo would have shown the figure of a marine with the letter W, Whitmore's would have shown a lady with the letter M.

Isabel said these stories kept the memory of her courageous grandfather alive.

"I wish my mother had lived to see it," she said.

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