Human remains found in France identified as WWI soldier from New Brunswick
Sgt. Harold Wilfred Shaughnessy of St. Stephen was 33 when he was killed on Aug. 15, 1917
Human remains found in France nearly a year ago have been identified as those of a First World War soldier from St. Stephen, N.B., the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces announced on Friday.
Sgt. Harold Wilfred Shaughnessy was a stenographer before enlisting in Montreal on Aug. 4, 1915, as a member of the 13th Canadian Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The battalion was formed by the Montreal-based Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada.
Shaughnessy was killed two years later, on Aug. 15, 1917, in the Battle of Hill 70 — the first major action fought by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander in the First World War. He was 33.
His remains and First World War artifacts were discovered near the village of Vendin-le-Vieil during munitions-clearing work in advance of a construction project on June 6, 2016, according to a joint news release.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was notified, and with the support of French regional authorities, took possession of the remains and artifacts and transported them to a commission office in Beaurains, France, it said.
Shaughnessy was identified by the Department of National Defence casualty identification program through a review of the historical context, an examination of the personal and battalion artifacts, and a forensic anthropological analysis.
Being able to return their name to them, making sure they're not forgotten, they're no longer missing — it's quite a special thing to be a part of.- Sarah Lockyer, forensic anthropologist
"It is a little bit of detective work, putting the puzzle pieces together," said forensic anthropologist Sarah Lockyer, who helped to identify the remains.
The personal items she examined included an identification disc, a signet ring with Shaughnessy's initials on it, a pipe and tobacco, a razor and a toothbrush.
"It's all about returning these individuals' identities," said Lockyer.
"They made the ultimate sacrifice for their county and unfortunately got lost in the fog of war. So being able to return their name to them, making sure they're not forgotten, they're no longer missing — it's quite a special thing to be a part of."
"He was my first case where I was involved from start to finish, so for me this case is very special," she said.
Carl Kletke, a Department of National Defence historian who collaborated with Lockyer on the case, agrees it's "very rewarding" to help family members reconnect with their ancestors and regiments reconnect with "those that went before them."
Kletke determined Shaughnessy was wearing an identifier of the 73rd battalion, which had been disbanded just prior to the Battle of Hill 70. Its members were dispersed and absorbed by other units, including the 13th battalion, which was in the area where Shaughnessy's remains were located.
"So it made our list very short of potential candidates," said Kletke. "The historical evidence pointed towards [Shaughnessy], but it's Sarah's scientific, anthropological information that confirmed if you will, put all of the parts of the puzzle together."
The young soldiers of Shaughnessy's perpetuating unit in Montreal will see on their battle honours that Hill 70 was among them and will now know that he "was one of them," he said.
Full military burial planned
Shaughnessy was not married, according to his personnel file, said Kletke. But he did have two sisters listed in his will.
Veterans Affairs Canada managed to track down Shaughnessy's two closest surviving relatives in the Boston area and is providing support as final arrangements are made for Shaughnessy's burial at Loos British Cemetery outside Loos-en-Gohelle, France.
It will be a full military burial, organized by the Directorate of History and Heritage, and members of Shaughnessy's regiment will participate, said Lockyer. She expects it will be held around the end of the summer.
"We have the privilege to mark Sgt. Shaughnessy's place of rest so that all who pass by will make note of his sacrifice," Brig.-Gen. (Ret.) David Kettle, secretary general, the Canadian Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said in a statement.
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"We will remember Sgt. Shaughnessy as one of over 2,000 brave Canadians who gave their lives in the Battle of Hill 70," National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in the statement.
'Sgt. Shaughnessy will be revered and remembered by a grateful nation.'- Kent Hehr, Veterans Affairs minister
"Their courage and determination has not diminished with the century that has passed. We honour and remember them."
The goal of the casualty identification program is to identify unknown soldiers when their remains are discovered, so that they may be buried with a name by their regiment and in the presence of family.
In 1917, about 2,100 Canadians gave their lives in the Battle of Hill 70, which took place Aug. 15 to Aug. 25. More than 1,300 of these soldiers have no known grave, according to the news release.
The strategic high point of Hill 70 remained in Allied hands until the end of the war.
"Like all of the men and women who gave their lives in the war effort, Sgt. Shaughnessy will be revered and remembered by a grateful nation," Kent Hehr, the veterans affairs minister and associate minister of national defence.
With files from Shift