Pupils’ mission to honour war hero

Students from Springwell Dene school, Ryan Andrew Dunning, Daniel Cain, Joshua Armstrong and David Fowler with their research and pictures of a Sunderland soldier's grave which they traced on a recent trip to Germany.
Students from Springwell Dene school, Ryan Andrew Dunning, Daniel Cain, Joshua Armstrong and David Fowler with their research and pictures of a Sunderland soldier's grave which they traced on a recent trip to Germany.
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A YOUNG First World War war hero has finally had a wreath laid on his grave almost 94 years after being killed in action.

A group of students from the city’s Springwell Dene School turned detective in a bid to find the war grave of Hendon soldier Private George Moffatt Knill, killed in the French fields in August 1917.

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After months of researching to find information about Pte Knill, a member of the 7th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, and two days searching war cemeteries in France, the emotional teenagers eventually found the Sunderland soldier’s grave and were able to lay a poppy wreath.

Paul Ramsey, teacher at the Swindon Road school, which caters for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties, said: “Finding the grave was an unbelievable experience, the lads all cheered when they saw the name in the cemetery book.

“There were a few tears from everyone when we stood by the grave to lay the wreath, it was very emotional. I am incredibly proud of the lads.”

Daniel Cain, 14, from Pallion, one of the group which found the grave, said: “It was so sad seeing all the headstones. We were really pleased to find Pte Knill’s and it was amazing to know no-one had been there before us.”

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The quest to find Pte Knill’s grave came after fellow teacher at the Sunderland school, Michelle Hansen, mentioned to her mum, Ruth Swalwell, 74, who now lives in Australia, that a group of their children were going to France to visit the war graves and experience French culture.

Michelle said: “Mum said how it had been my grandfather’s lifelong dream to find where his older brother had been buried and it just went from there.”

Alfred Knill, who died many years ago, was just 11 when news reached the family’s Wearside home that George had been killed, but he never forgot his only brother and even named his son after him.

Michelle said: “Obviously in those days researching where he might be and going to France would seem impossible. But, for the lads to have done this is just incredible.”

As well as laying the wreath, the boys also took crosses with messages on from Michelle’s family just in case they were successful.

Twitter: @SunEchoSchools

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