WW1 sailor identified after 99 years reburied in Holland

Watched by 89-year-old Joan Loftus, crew from HMS Hurworth stand around the Union Flag as the grave of her uncle is rededicated.

For nearly a century, the last resting place of AB Haco Dobson, a 22-year-old junior rating aboard destroyer HMS Tornado, was unknown.

Two days before Christmas 1917 Haco’s ship was one of four destroyers patrolling off the Dutch coast when they ran into a German minefield.

In the ensuing chaos three ships sank – Torrent, Surprise and finally Tornado, which detonated two mines as she tried to escape the field; only one man out of more than 80 aboard survived. Just HMS Radiant succeeded in returning to base unharmed.

Three months later the body of one H Dobson 3161 was washed up at Zandvoort – 20 miles west of Amsterdam – and buried in the local cemetery.

After the conflict, the then Imperial War Graves Commission decided to re-bury Britain’s Great War dead in a handful of cemeteries. An administrative error listed Haco as ‘W E Dobson 3161’ – who didn’t exist, and so the headstone erected over his grave Noordwijk, 25 miles southwest of the Dutch capital, was marked: “British seaman of the Great War. Known unto God.”

it was a very special day and we just weren’t expecting such a wonderful service. We are all so proud of Haco.

89 year old Joan Loftus, niece of AB Haco Dobson

But recent research by Dutch historian Mark Siljmans, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre succeeded in correcting the error and solving the 99-year mystery of Haco’s last resting place.

His neice Joan, great nephew Kieran and great niece Deidre and great great nephew Ronan made the trip to the Netherlands, with crew from minehunter HMS Hurworth, paying a visit to Holland, and representatives from the British Embassy.

“It was a very special day – we weren't expecting such a wonderful service. We are all so proud of Haco,” said Mrs Loftus.

Her uncle hailed from Penrith originally, grew up in Liverpool and worked in a paper mill in Darwen in Lancashire before joining the Navy in 1916.

For Mr Siljmans, who’d spent several years studying local archives to help correctly identify Haco Dobson and had been invited to the CWGC’s workshops in Beaurains in France to see the new gravestone carved, the rededication was a day of satisfaction and sadness.

“One unknown sailor less,” he said. “It’s a pity that his mother never knew.”