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Gravesend: Headstones tribute to James Body and Ernest Caselton killed during war

By Clare Freeman

The graves of two tugboat men killed during the Second World War are to get commemorative headstones after they were left unmarked for 76 years.

James Body, 18, and Ernest Caselton, 35, were working on board the tug Persia on the River Thames on April 9, 1941, when they were killed in an explosion caused by a German mine.

Later this year, their graves will be marked by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) with a headstone and their names will be included on a roll of honour.

James Body, 18, of Gravesend killed on the tug Persia while docking the S.S. Luluna

The CWGC is appealing for relatives of the two men to come forward as a close relation will be able to place a personal inscription on the headstone.

During both world wars many men and women died either of an injury or illness while in active service at home rather than on the battlefield.

If the CWGC was not notified of their deaths at the time, they were not placed on the roll of honour or given a commission headstone.

A spokesman said: “Cases such as James’ and Ernest’s were referred to us by researchers, and once proof was obtained that they both died of injuries/illness sustained while they were in active service, they could be given a headstone and put on the roll of honour.

“Both men died because they were serving their country and should always be remembered – whether they died far from home or on British soil.”

As the Persia had been requisitioned by the Merchant Navy, Mr Body, a fireman, and Mr Caselton, a leading hand, were killed in active service and not classed as civilian casualties.

Tug Persia, which sunk with the loss of the crew

Mr Body lived at 2 Terrace Gardens with Alice Elizabeth Jane Russell who he had married on Boxing Day just four months earlier.

He was reported missing and his body was found on May 23.

He was buried in Gravesend Cemetery on May 28, 1941.

Mr Caselton was single and lived with his sister, Mrs Hogwood. He had worked on tugs from the age of 16 and took part in the Dunkirk evacuation.

The pair had been commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial to the missing in error.

The Persia was docking the SS Lunula, a tanker carrying gasoline, at Jetty No.4 Thames Haven when the ship struck a mine causing a huge explosion that engulfed both boats.

In total, 39 lives were lost and the ship and tug were gutted by fire. All seven crew members on board the tug were killed. They all came from Gravesend.

  • Relatives, or anyone with information about the two men, are asked to contact the CWGC by emailing enquiries@cwgc.org
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