In November 2021, nine British soldiers who died in World War One were given a military funeral more than a century after their deaths. Their bodies were discovered during engineering works in Belgium in 2018 and they appeared to have died together. Two of the nine, 2nd Lt Leslie Wallace Ablett and 2nd Lt Edward Bruty, had connections to Dulwich. 

The soldiers, including Ablett and Bruty, were found in a trench and had been killed either by heavy shelling or the trench collapsing. Personal belongings found with the men enabled researchers to identify seven of them as soldiers of the 11th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, then DNA testing of living relatives enabled Ablett, Bruty and the other five soldiers to be specifically identified. The seven were laid to rest with full military honours in a ceremony at Belgium's Tyne Cot Cemetery and were buried alongside thousands of their comrades who fell during heavy fighting at Passchendaele in October 1917. The eighth casualty could not be identified by name but was honoured as an ‘Unknown Soldier of the Northumberland Fusiliers’ and the ninth and final serviceman was buried as an ‘Unknown Soldier of the Great War’. 

The Battle of Passchendaele was one of the bloodiest of World War One, when British and French troops launched an assault on German positions around Ypres in July 1917. Heavy rain turned the battlefield into a sea of mud and the fighting continued through the summer and into autumn until the attack was abandoned in November 1917 with around 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties.

2nd Lieutenant Leslie Wallace Ablett was born in 1897, the son of John Joseph Ablett and Caroline Church of Streatham. John Joseph was a buyer of wholesale drapery and furs from Manchester, then the home of the textile industry. Leslie’s grandfather had been a parish clerk and choir master in Withington. 

The family moved from Manchester to South London a few years before Leslie was born. Once there, they moved house a fair bit, not unusual in those days when most people rented and the breadwinner’s income often fluctuated. At first the Abletts lived in Nunhead, in Athendale Road before moving to the next road up, Ivydale Road and it was here that Leslie was born. When John’s mother was widowed she moved down from Manchester to join them. By 1901 the family had moved to Rye Hill Park, Camberwell and in 1907 they moved to Eardley Road in Streatham. Leslie joined Alleyn’s School in 1908 and a year later his school report said he was 'bright, cheerful and of good tone. Has worked well'; he was also a keen poet. In 1913 when he was 16 he left Alleyn’s to become a clerk, possibly in haberdashery, the same business his father and brother were in. In 1914 the Abletts left South London for the Portobello Rd and it was from here that Leslie went to war. 

In October 1915 Leslie Ablett enlisted with the Artists Rifles Officer Training Corps and was commissioned less than a year later, joining the 11th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers as a 2nd Lt. He was wounded in action in June 1917 and he died in battle on 14 October 1917, aged 20, being found in the same trench as Bruty. His ID bracelet, pen and ring identified him and a relative provided a DNA sample which confirmed the identification. 

2nd Lieutenant Edward Bruty, born in 1895 in East Dulwich, was the son of William Dannell Bruty, a carpenter from Bermondsey, and Edith Kate Mary Thompson, known as Kate. The middle child of nine, Edward had four brothers and four sisters and the family lived at 34 Whateley Road until Edward was 15, when they moved to 237 Lordship Lane. The children all attended Heber Road School and when Edward left he started work as a railway clerk. In 1914 he enlisted and became a sergeant in the Army Cyclists Corps before being commissioned into the 11th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers in February 1917. He died in battle on 14 October 1917, aged 21 and was found in a trench with his kit and equipment. The soldiers’ personal effects, together with Northumberland Fusilier insignia, narrowed identification down; then, in conjunction with DNA testing of relatives, seven of the nine soldiers were named. 

The Bruty family continued to live at 237 Lordship Lane until 1955.

Sharon O’Connor