LINCOLN, England (AP) -- Known as ''The Chums'' in life, they lay together in death, their arms linked.
But the 24 British World War I soldiers unearthed near Arras in northern France will never be identified and are likely to be reinterred under headstones labeled ''Known Only to God,'' the Ministry of Defense says.
''How can we identify them?'' said a ministry spokeswoman, Gaye Jones. ''With so many millions killed in that war, where do you begin?''
Four of the men -- all noncommissioned officers -- carried insignia from the Lincolnshire Regiment of eastern England, Jones told The Associated Press. ''And the supposition is that the rest are from there.''
Even that is not certain.
Although there are no badges or dog tags to prove it, it is believed the men were in the regiment's 10th Battalion, raised in the fishing port of Grimsby near Lincoln and christened ''The Chums.''
The bodies -- lying in a neat row, their arms linked, probably by whoever buried them -- were unearthed nearly a month ago at the construction site of a BMW car factory.
Officials kept the discovery quiet until last week to avoid crowds.
Twenty of the corpses were found in a 50- by 7-foot trench that served as a common grave, officials said. Four had shoulder flashes from the Lincolnshire Regiment, which fought at Arras in April 9-14, 1917.
The remains of three other soldiers were found buried in a hole with munitions. Another soldier who is believed to have fought with the Royal Naval Division was discovered apart from the others, officials said.
Capt. John Lee, a spokesman for the Lincolnshire Regiment, said it couldn't be proved the dead belonged to the 10th Battalion, but ''there is a fairly strong likelihood that they were Grimsby Chums.''
''All the evidence points that way. They were in the area and had 20 men missing on the 9th,'' Lee said.
Lee said the men were probably buried by someone unfamiliar with military procedure. All dog tags and other identifying items were removed, and the arms were linked, instead of being crossed over the chest in military style.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which marks and maintains the graves of British empire soldiers from both world wars, will oversee the reburial of the bodies with military honors next year.
The tombstones are likely to simply say, ''A soldier of the Great War. Known Only to God,'' although the markers of those bodies bearing the regimental crest will be engraved with that insignia, Jones said.
Remains of World War I soldiers are discovered regularly on the former battlefields of northern France. Officials believe some 100,000 Commonwealth soldiers are still unaccounted for from the war.
The forerunner of the Lincolnshire Regiment was formed in 1685 by John Granville, Earl of Bath, to help King James II put down a rebellion, and has seen service around the world.
One of its soldiers was wounded by the first shot fired in the American War of Independence in 1775, in Massachusetts -- described as ''the shot heard around the world.''
The regiment is commemorated in a small exhibit at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln, which includes a recreation of a World War I trench.
Regimental records show the 10th Battalion was decimated at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, but The Chums managed to rebuild in time for the attack on Arras.
With other members of the regiment, The Chums captured the forward slopes of the strategically important Vimy Ridge and were able to look down on German troops across the Doui Plain.
''Near Arras, our troops leap to the attack in the midst of such artillery fire as the world has never seen,'' William Beach Thomas reported in a dispatch published by The Daily Mail on April 10, 1917.
''It was accompanied by an onslaught of strange engines of war, while overhead, as soon as the clouds allowed, our aeroplanes, moving at 130 miles an hour, rushed to tackle any German machines they could find.''
Later that month, the Lincolnshires tried to take the heavily fortified town of Reoux with its vital chemical plant, but were beaten back with the loss of more than 400 lives.