AN OLD solider of the DLI has paid emotional tribute to ten comrades who died in what was an almost forgotten tragedy.

Burnett (correct) Seyburn, 88, was an 18-year-old being trained to fight in the Far East on the day ten fellow soldiers, all aged 18, were drowned in a training exercise in a Northumberland river almost exactly 70 years ago.

Mr Seyburn, of Billingham, Stockton, a Lance Corporal at the time of the accident, said that at the time all the soldiers were told not to talk about the drownings under fear of court martial.

However, he never forgot the tragedy and, with Northumbrian historian Vera Vaggs, helped organise and campaign for a memorial to the dead which was unveiled 50 years after the tragedy.

Mr Seyburn, who fought in the Far East in the Second World War and went on to become a sergeant, explained that he is sometimes moved to tears on the day the ten are remembered each January 17. It is hoped that there will be a big turn-out at this year's ceremony in the quiet hamlet of Guyzance by a weir on the River Coquet where the men were drowned.

Mr Seyburn, originally from Fence Houses near Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham, said: "When I go, I cry. I never forgot those boys. I could have been one of them. It was only pure fate that I was on another training exercise that day.

"They would all have been home the weekend before and their families must have thought they were going to be all right. It was coming to the end of the war.."

Mr Seyburn, who worked at ICI after the war, had been on training exercises in a forest near Carlisle as preparation for jungle fighting at the time of the tragedy. He explained that when he returned to Felton rumours were flying around the day of the tragedy and the soldiers were told not to talk of it for fear of damaging morale. He believed the soldiers involved were training for the crossing of the Rhine as part of the 1945 advance into Germany. He knew the soldiers who died at the time, but only as "ships that pass."

The war veteran raised money and support from the lottery, the War Graves Commission and local landowner Sir Anthony Milburn and Asda donated and transported the stone memorial.

The poem on the copper plaque, by now deceased, Northumbrian-Scots war veteran Charles Dick who was captured at Dunkirk and who Mr Seyburn knew, reads: "Hallowed be the memory; of the forgotten ten; who shouldered arms as virgin boys; and died as active men."

A memorial ceremony will take place at Guyzance at 11am on Saturday, January 17.