Two Canadian First World War soliders’ bodies discovered in France 

A body discovered in May 2013 has been identified by the Department of National Defence (DND) as the remains of First World War soldier, Sgt. James Alexander Milne. A second body, discovered a year earlier, remains unidentified at this time.

“We are thankful for the efforts of the Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives and the Service archéologique municipal d’Arras of France, for the support of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and for the ingenuity of the Canadian Conservation Institute, which enabled our officers to identify Sergeant Milne, and to conclude the investigation into the unidentified soldier found at Thélus. We will not forget that these men gave all they had so that a century later, we might live in peace,” said Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan.

Sgt. Milne was born in Gellybrands, Cookney, Kincardineshire, Scotland, on February 10, 1883. He is said to have immigrated to Canada somewhere between 1905 and 1911. An unmarried labourer, Milne enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Calgary, AB on Jan. 27, 1915. He is believed to have been killed on April 28, 1917, in relation to an operation against a German position known as Arleaux-Loop. He was 34.

Almost a century after his death, an archaeological team from the Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives discovered his remains in a field on the outskirts of Arleux-en-Gohelle, France. The team was in the area carrying out a mandatory archaeological survey of the land, which is known to be a battlefield of the First World War.

Tented camp of the 10th Infantry Battalion at Abeele, Belgium, in May 1916. Sergeant Milne would have been a member of the battalion at this time and lived in this camp. Credit : Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-000001 (MIKAN no. 3405993)

The investigation into the second set of remains, discovered seven kilometres away at Thélus, Pas de Calais, France, has been officially concluded by DND and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). The body cannot be identified at this time. However, both maternal and paternal DNA Profiles have been obtained with the hope of a future identification.

This unidentified soldier was discovered by the Service archéologique municipal d’Arras on September 27, 2012, during an excavation. He was found only with a metal “CANADA” insignia. He is believed to be one of the 3,426 Canadian military members who went missing during the ten-month long military engagement at Vimy. It is estimated that he died somewhere between Nov. 1, 1916, and the end of July 1917.

“Like far too many soldiers who fought in France during the First World War, Sergeant Milne gave his life in service to Canada. The unidentified soldier found at Thélus reminds us of the many brave Canadians still missing or buried without a name from this terrible conflict. We will lay them both to rest with the honour which they and their families deserve in return for their sacrifice,” said Kent Hehr, Minister of Veteran Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.

Upon discovery of both bodies, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) was notified, and took possession of the remains and artifacts, transporting them to a CWGC facility in Beaurains, France, for safekeeping.

“The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is honoured to have assisted in bringing the discovery of Sergeant Milne, and his unidentified countryman, to the attention of his country, and will be honoured again later this year to mark their places of rest with headstones, so that their personal sacrifice may be perpetually remembered,” stated BGen. (ret’d) David Kettle, Secretary General, the Canadian Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Sgt. Milne’s family has been notified and continue to receive support from Veterans Affairs Canada. Sgt. Milne’s body will be laid to rest later this year by his Regiment in a cemetery outside Arleux-en-Gohelle.

The unidentified soldier will be laid to rest later this year as well at the Canadian Cemetery No. 2, Neuville-St. Vaast, France.


Above image: Cap badge of the 10th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force

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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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