Remembering

First World War Soldier Identified Eight Years After Remains Found

Eight years after the remains of a First World War soldier were first discovered, have finally been identified as Private Harry Atherton.

Discovered in July 2017 during a munition clearing in Vendin-le-Vieil, France, the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team, and the Canadian Museum of History, the Casualty Identification Review Board were able to identify his remains through historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological, and DNA analysis, according to a Department of National Defence (DND) press release.

“The identification of Private Atherton gives the Canadian Armed Forces the opportunity to pay its respects and provide him with a final resting place. His courage and selfless service can never be fully repaid. But Canada will remember and honour him, and those like him who gave so much for this country in the First World War. To his family I extend my sympathy and gratitude,” said Minister of National Defence Anita Anand.

A Young Soldier

Harry Atherton was born in Leigh, England, in 1893 but moved to Canada at the age of 20 by himself, according to an information release by DND. He eventually settled in McBride, British Columbia, working as a carpenter.

In March 1916, Atherton joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) with the 63rd Canadian Infantry Battalion (Edmonton) at the age of 23. Just one month later, he was bound for England. He was then sent to France in July 1916 as a member of the 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion. He served in several battles where he was eventually wounded and sent to England to recover. However, Atherton returned to the front in March 1917.

General Sir Arthur Currie and a few children watch Canadian soldiers march to a rest camp following action at Hill 70. Image courtesy of Hill 70 Memorial.

Battle of Hill 70

Private Atherton was among the many Canadians who took part in the Battle of Hill 70 that began in August 1917. Unfortunately, at the age of 24, it is reported that Private Atherton was killed in action on the first day of the Battle.

Although the Battle of Hill 70 lasted ten days, heavy Canadian casualties were suffered. More than 10,000 Canadians were killed, wounded, or missing. The 10th Battalion suffered 429 casualties, 71 with no known grave.

“Though it has been more than a century since we lost Private Atherton in the Battle of Hill 70 during the First World War, I’m proud that we were able to identify his remains and provide him with a proper burial. His contributions to Canada will never be forgotten. Lest we forget,” said Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.

Identifying the Private

When his remains were discovered in 2017, they were accompanied by several artifacts, including an identification disc and insignias of the 10th Battalion.

Through historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological, and DNA analysis, the Casualty Identification Review Board confirmed Private Atherton’s identity in Oct. 2021.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) then notified the family of Private Atherton and is providing them with support.

Loos Memorial (Dud Corner Cemetery), monument to soldiers who died in the Battle of Loos in the fall of 1915. Cemetery incorporated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, architect: Sir Herbert Baker.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Loos British Cemetery

Private Atherton is commemorated on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Veterans Affairs Canada plans on burying him in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Loos British Cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle, France, at the earliest opportunity.

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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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