British Columbia

Identity of Canadian soldier depicted in new war memorial discovered in time for big reveal

The New Brunswick soldier in the image was identified when his wife spotted him on the news

CBC News

September 29, 2017

Michael Heppell, the Afghanistan Memorial Society procurement lead, inspects the final product after delivery, checking each of the 163 names against a master list. (Afghanistan Memorial Society)

The moment Lt. Michael McCauley stopped to shake the hand of an Afghan child in southern Afghanistan in 2007 has been immortalized on a wartime memorial about to be unveiled in Victoria, B.C.

The 18,000 pound slab of granite was designed to honour the thousands of Canadian soldiers and a handful of civilians who served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014.

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Lt. McCauley and his wife, both active members of the Canadian Forces, will travel from New Brunswick to attend the unveiling alongside fellow military members, veterans and Lt. Governor Judith Guichon.

The memorial's design was inspired by a photograph of Lt. McCauley shaking the hand of a local boy.

It was taken by Reuters photographer Finbarr O'Reilly in the then Taliban-held district of Panjwaii where a number of Canadian soldiers were killed in hard-fought battles that raged for years between the Taliban and Canadian Forces.

Moving and installing the 18,000 pound memorial required the use of a crane.

Despite months of effort, the Afghanistan Memorial Society couldn't identify the soldier in the image and had all but given up on learning the story of the handshake, when the media was given a sneak peek of the memorial.

That night when the story aired, the McCauleys were watching the news and immediately recognized the image. They got in touch with the society and introduced themselves.

The striking image is the visual focal point of the main part of the sculpture, but a closer look reveals the emotional focus: the 163 names transcribed into its base.

Those names represent 158 soldiers and five government-employed civilians who were killed in the war, including journalist Michelle Lang and diplomat Glyn Barry.

The sculpture also recognizes the injured and mentally maimed soldiers who returned home, as well as the families they left behind.

It will be installed on the grounds of the provincial courthouse in Victoria, near a new playground and in the same spot a tent city for the homeless once stood before it was taken down.

It was originally slated to be installed across the street, but the province offered up the space instead.

"The provincial government offered us this site which has better exposure quite frankly," said Larry Gozner, a retired brigadier general and current member of the Afghan Memorial Society.

The memorial will be officially unveiled Sept. 30, 2017, at the provincial courthouse in Victoria.

Members of the public are encouraged to attend and details can be found on the Afghanistan Memorial Society's website.

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It took months to identify the soldier depicted in the image engraved on the new memorial, but Lt. Michael McCauley will be in attendance at the upcoming unveiling.  8:28

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island

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