Remains of Canadian soldier killed in WWI battle in France finally found
Soldiers wounded during the fighting at Hill 70 receiving care in August 1917. (Department of National Defence/ Library and Archives Canada)
Published Monday, May 28, 2018 11:54AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 28, 2018 11:58AM EDT
A Canadian soldier who died in France more than a century ago during a fierce First World War battle will be laid to rest this summer after Canadian Forces forensic experts were able to identify his remains.
Pte. John “Jack” Henry Thomas was a member of the 26th Canadian Infantry Battalion New Brunswick, and grew up in Birch Ridge, N.B. before enlisting in the army. He was sent to fight in France in April, 1917, and was killed just a few months later during a 10-day battle near Lens, France, called the Battle of Hill 70.
The battle was the first major First World War action fought by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander. An estimated 10,000 Canadian soldiers were either killed, wounded, or went missing during that battle, but the Allies held onto the position until the end of the war.
The 28-year-old Thomas was killed on Aug. 19, 1917, while fighting against a German counterattack, but his body was never recovered. In fact, more than 1,300 Canadian Corps members killed during that battle have no known grave.
Thomas’ name is among thousands engraved on the Vimy Memorial, which commemorates the 11,000 Canadian soldiers killed in the First World War whose bodies were never recovered.
Thomas’ remains and those of two other soldiers were finally found in 2016 by work crews digging on the grounds of a plastic manufacturer near Lens, France.
The crew uncovered skeletal remains, as well as several artifacts, including a 26th Canadian Infantry Battalion (New Brunswick) collar badge, general service buttons, and ammunition.
Through DNA testing and genealogical analysis, as well as through dental records analyzed by the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team, one set of the remains was identified last October as belonging to Pte. Thomas.
Thomas’ remains will now receive a proper burial this August, in the Loos British Cemetery, in nearby Loos-en-Gohelle, France. He will be buried beside other members of his regiment, and members of his family and the Canadian government are expected to attend.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement that it’s important to honour and remember Pte. Thomas.
“We will never forget his sacrifice, or those of the nearly 61,000 brave Canadians who gave their lives in the First World War so that all of us might live in peace and security,” Sajjan said.