Soldier’s skull, long in US medical museum, buried in France
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian soldier’s skull has been buried in a French war grave a century after it was taken for eventual display in a Philadelphia medical museum, Australia’s government said Saturday.
Private Thomas Hurdis was wounded in Belgium on Sept. 26, 1917, and died a week later in a U.S. field hospital in France at the age of 26.
The Australian government was alerted last year that the skull of an unnamed Australian soldier, with a bullet lodged in bone between his eyes, was on display at the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
The skull was buried in Hurdis’ grave on Friday at the Mont Huon Military Cemetery in Le Treport in a ceremony attended by Hurdis’ family and Australian troops, Minister for Defense Personnel Darren Chester said. The rest of Hurdis’ body had been buried there on Oct. 12, 1917 — nine days after his death.
Hurdis’ head had been removed for pathological study purposes and according to protocols, Chester said.
“Although this was a rare event, it was a product of a desire to learn from the medical developments and experiences of the World War One,” Chester said in a statement.
The museum said in a statement that the British government gave it the skull in 1919.
The museum had displayed a photograph of the skull on its website with an explanation that as well as the bullet in his forehead, Hurdis had been shot in the mouth by another bullet that had passed through his palate and right eye. Shrapnel had also removed part of his jaw.
The museum website said that he was blind and disoriented while in U.S. medical care. Hurdis eventually removed his bandages and bled to death.
His skull was removed from public display and the website at Australia’s request last year after a member of the public complained.
The Sydney-born soldier’s younger brother John has been listed as missing in action in France since July 1916.