Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Remains of World War I captain Henry John Innes Walker discovered in Flanders field

The remains of a New Zealand soldier killed in World War I have been identified more than a century after his death.

Excavations of a Western Front battlefield have uncovered the remains, and remarkably well-preserved possessions, of Henry John Innes Walker.

The area - in the West Flanders Langemark - was the site of the Second Battle of Ypres.

After a gas attack on April 22, 1915, there was heavy fighting in the area.

Walker, an Aucklander who had joined the British Army and rose to become a captain with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment's 1st Battalion, was killed in action on April 25, 1915 - at around the time the Anzacs landed several hundred kilometres away at Gallipoli.

He was shot in the stomach at about 3.30am as his company advanced to take a defended wooded area.

Official UK war documents from the time state that Walker's body was last seen lying in a large shell crater, about 45m from a German trench.

Comrades of Walker believed that the enemy would "probably" have buried him in the "natural grave" of the shell crater.

His remains have just been uncovered as part of a dig forming a TV series, In War Special: Among Flemish Fields, Belgian news outlet HLN reports.

He was one of 45 fallen soldiers found, it was reported.

Objects found with Walker's body include a medallion, whistle and a pair of binoculars.

Along with bone material analysis and the examination of historical sources, the possessions helped archaeologists to conclude that the remains could only belong to Walker.

It is a rare discovery, 101 years after Walker's death.

Officials now say they will try to contact Walker's descendants and find a final resting place for him.

New Zealand military records say he was killed in action on April 25, 1915.

Walker attended King's College in Auckland where he now appears in the school's Roll of Honour.

He is also remembered at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium and at Auckland War Memorial Museum's World War I Hall of Memories.

In 2011 and 2013, the remains of two unknown soldiers, positively identified as members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, were reinterred at Messines, Belgium.

But after a century on, it is now "unusual" for individual identifiers to be found with remains, an NZDF spokeswoman said today.

Given that Walker, like many commissioned New Zealand officers, was serving in the British Army, it is understood that the recovery, identification and reinterment of the remains is the responsibility of the British authorities.

David Reeves, director of collections and research at Auckland Museum, welcomed the "really interesting discovery".

"Many New Zealanders who fell in WWI have no known gravesite so new information like this is very valuable for family members and historians," he said.

A Belgian resident has linked the find to the museum's online cenotaph database - a platform to record and share information about New Zealand Servicemen and women.

"This story is another discovery that helps to build richer information," Reeves said.

THE COST OF WAR - NEW ZEALAND LIVES LOST ON WW1'S WESTERN FRONT

* Almost 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). Several thousand New Zealanders served in the Australian or British imperial forces.

* Around 18,000 New Zealanders died, with 41,000 wounded or fallen ill.

* 2779 (16.3%) died at Gallipoli and more than 12,000 (74.8%) on the Western Front of France and Belgium.

* 2111 New Zealanders died during the Somme offensive of Sept/Oct 1916.

* Around 837 died during the Messines offensive of June 1917.

* Around 1796 died during the Third Battle of Ypres (Broodseinde and Passchendaele) of October 1917.

- Source: NZ History

- NZ Herald

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