4 WW I Canadian soldiers' remains identified

Nearly a century after they died in battle, the remains of unidentified Canadian soldiers who fought in the First World War are still being found in Europe. Today the Department of National Defence announced the names of four who died during the Battle of Amiens in August 1918.

Clifford Neelands, Lachlan McKinnon, William Simms and John Lindell died in the Battle of Amiens in 1918

Canadian WWI soldiers' remains ID'd

8 years ago
Duration 3:02
Remains of 4 Canadian soldiers have been identified in northern France, Katie Nicholson reports

Nearly a century after they died in battle, the remains of unidentified Canadian soldiers who fought in the First World War are still being found in Europe.

Today the Department of National Defence released the names of four who died during the Battle of Amiens in August 1918.

Their resting place was discovered in 2006 by then 14-year-old Fabien Demeusere, while digging in his back garden in Hallu, France, 120 kilometres north of Paris.

Demeusere, a young First World War history buff, whose home was built on what had been a battlefield in 1918, had made an important discovery.

The remains of eight soldiers were eventually found, but so far only four have been identified.

They are:

  • Clifford Neelands

Neelands was born in Barrie, Ont., and moved with his family to Winnipeg. He worked as a real estate agent before joining the 78th Battalion. Lt. Neelands was one of six officers in the 78th who died in the Battle of Amiens.

  • Lachlan McKinnon

McKinnon grew up in Scotland, arriving in Canada in 1913. He had worked as a butcher. After he enlisted, he was back in the U.K. by 1915. Before going to fight on the continent, he married a woman from Glasgow. Pte. McKinnon was seriously wounded in his left leg while serving as a rifleman on the Somme front in 1916.

Pte. William Simms of Canada's 78th Battalion died in the Battle of Amiens in France on Aug. 11, 1918. (Rodger McLaughlin)
  • William Simms

Simms was from a large farm family in Russell, Man. Pte. Simms took part in all the major Canadian offensives of 1917. One of his brothers also died in the war.

  • John Oscar Lindell

Lindell was born in Sweden in 1884, came to Canada when he was about 20 and ended up in Winnipeg. Lance Sgt. Lindell worked as a railroad foreman before he joined the 78th battalion in 1915.

A possible fifth soldier

Relatives of Albert Edward Ahmed say one of the other four unidentified soldiers may be Ahmed.

Ahmed's parents died when he was a young child, and he eventually went to live at one of the Dr. Barnardo children's homes, before becoming one of the British home children sent to Canada.

Once enlisted, Ahmed arrived back in Britain in November 1916. He was sent to France in April 1918 and the Battle of Amiens was his first direct action, according to war historian Andrew Iarocci, a professor at the University of Western Ontario.

All five of the soldiers' names appear on  the Vimy Memorial.

The Battle of Amiens, 1918

The Battle of Amiens began before dawn on Aug. 8, 1918, with a surprise attack by Allied forces.

That offensive included four Canadian divisions and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Canadian troops would be the spearhead of the attack.

There were 300,000 Allied troops in total, a third of them Canadian. The Allies also had "the largest tank force ever assembled to that point in history," writes Tim Cook in Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting The Great War 1917-1918.

Lt. Clifford Neelands was one of six officers from Canada's 78th Battalion killed in the Battle Of Amiens in August 1918. (Clifford Teague)

"The Canadian Corps, magnificently equipped and highly trained in storm tactics may be expected to appear shortly in offensive operations," according to a captured German document from earlier that summer.

Their own generals considered them fresh and ready, since three of the four divisions avoided most of the fighting during the German spring and summer offensives, according to Cook.

German forces, meanwhile, were battered after 800,000 casualties that spring and summer. Allied intelligence considered their defences weak around Amiens.

"August 8th was the black day of the German army in the history of the war," wrote German Gen. Erich Ludendorff, who ran Germany's war effort on its western front.

Compare that to Cook who writes: "For the Allies, August 8 was the single most successful day of the war."

The Canadians had advanced farther and faster than expected, although 1,036 Canadian soldiers were killed that day.

The Battle of Amiens continued for six more days, with the Germans rushing more troops to the front.

How the eight soldiers died

The CBC documentary, Forgotten No More, follows the relatives of Canadian soldiers who fought and died in the First World War, whose remains were only recently identified. It premieres on Doc Zone on Nov. 6 on CBC TV or online on (CBC)

On Aug. 11, near the eastern edge of the battle, infantrymen in Canada's 78th Battalion found themselves surrounded as they tried to hold on to the village of Hallu, the present location of the Demeusere garden.

"By the eleventh, all hell has broken loose here. It's really a case of not just fighting any more for any strategic objective, but fighting just to survive," historian Iarocci says in a forthcoming CBC TV documentary, Forgotten No More: the Lost Men of the 78th.

The documentary, produced by Lynne Chichakian and directed by Liam O'Rinn, premieres Nov. 6.

Iarocci describes the fighting, which claimed the eight Canadians, as a "close-quarters battle, it's hand-to-hand fighting."

About 100 members of the 78th were killed or went missing in the Battle of Amiens. Total Canadian casualties in that fight was 11,822.

Identifying the remains

After the 2006 discovery, the task of identifying the eight fell to Laurel Clegg, a casualty identification coordinator at DND.

"We get all the heights and ages of those missing and we compare it against the heights and ages of the deceased," Clegg explains in the CBC documentary.

Then the department takes DNA from the remains and compares it to the DNA of potential relatives. Getting that DNA is not always easy.

Clegg says the remains of the eight soldiers discovered at Hallu will be buried next to each other near the graves of other soldiers from the 78th Battalion at a ceremony set for May 2015 at Caix cemetery in France.


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