In September 2006 an exceptional discovery was made in Zonnebeke: the remains of 5 Australian soldiers were recovered after having been buried for 89 years. The excavation - an emotional and overwhelming experience for Johan Vandewalle and his team - and the subsequent identification process reveiled the extraordinary story of two brothers: John and Jim Hunter.
FINDING THE ZONNEBEKE FIVE
During road works in the hamlet of Westhoek in 2006, laying a new gas pipe line, Tom Heyman, operating the machine, suddenly stops digging and calls Johan Vandewalle, an amateur archaeologist. Tom is convinced that he has found human remains just aside the road, and immediately links them to the battlefield that Westhoek once was. Johan rushes over and can only confirm that these remains must be those of a World War I soldier.
It would be an amazing experience for all of them. After clearing the first grave, they notice another grave just next to the first one. And then another, and another, and another.
In total 5 Australian soldiers are excavated. The last Australian body however, is to make an everlasting impression on all who were involved, and would later be identified as Australian Private 3504 John Hunter.
The body of John Hunter was not thrown in the grave like the other four bodies.
Clearly, someone had taken great care in laying him down to rest in peace.
Research led to the family in Australia, who confirmed that the story in the family was that John – or Jack as he was known in the family – had been buried by his younger brother Jim.
THE MEMORIAL PARK
The story of the Hunter brothers made Johan think about other sets of brothers that must have experienced a similar fate. Together with a team of WWI enthusiasts, he started digging in the history looking for other brothers that were killed in the war. And the team soon realized there were so many...
After receiving an email from a relative of John and Jim Hunter, saying that Jim called out to his brother John with his very last breath in 1975, Johan realized that it would be an amazing thing if we could reunite their souls, and at the same time commemorate so many other family tragedies. The concept of the Brother-In-Arms Memorial was born...
“... the moment he passed away he opened his eyes and called out ‘Jack’, as if he saw him in a vision, and was reaching out to him, like he had come to take him home.”
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