WW I Canadian soldier's remains identified

The remains of a First World War soldier found in France eight years ago are those of Pte. Sidney Halliday. He served in Canada’s 78th Battalion.

Sidney Halliday died in the Battle of Amiens, 1918

How a backyard discovery in France and DNA clues lead to the lost men of World War I's 78th battalion. 45:10

The remains of a previously unknown soldier are those of Canadian Pte. Sidney Halliday, who fought in the First World War.

The Department of National Defence announced today that they had identified Halliday's remains, one of eight bodies discovered together in France in 2006. DND had revealed the identities of four other soldiers on Sept. 27.

It was only when scientific avenues of investigation had been exhausted that a momentary gesture of love a century ago proved to be the key in identifying the remains.

Pte. Sidney Halliday served with the 78th Battalion and died in the Battle of Amiens in 1918. (Jim Halliday)

"I guess it makes you feel as if he just passed away, instead of all those many years ago," Jim Halliday, Sidney's nephew, told CBC News. "it's a strange feeling. It's one you can't really explain all that well, brought some sense of closure, as they say."

The five identified soldiers fought and died in the Battle of Amiens in 1918, the start of the hundred day offensive that eventually led to the end of the war.

They were members of Canada’s 78th Battalion, the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

Sidney Halliday was one of 10 children. In March 1913, he and his brother William left their home in Gloucestershire, England to come to Canada. Sidney soon found work on a farm in Minto, Man., according to William's son, Jim.

That's where he met Lizzie Walmsley. She had come from Winnipeg to work as a mother's helper during the summer. Sidney and Lizzie became sweethearts.

A long lost locket

In 1915 Sidney and his brother William decided to enlist in the Canadian army. William was rejected for health reasons, but Sidney joined the 78th Battalion. After basic training, Sidney was shipped overseas.

That would turn out to be Sidney and Lizzie’s final farewell. As a token of their undying love they exchanged lockets, each containing locks of hair.

On arrival in England, the 78th Battalion was stationed at Bramshott, where they underwent more training. When they were sent to France they took part in some of the fiercest battles of the war, including Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.

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)

In August 1918 the 78th was embroiled in yet another brutal conflict, the Battle of Amiens. It was a turning point that marked the beginning of the end of the war – the final push back against the German Army.

It was a battle of epic proportions. Initially, the Canadian Corps moved forward faster than anyone expected, advancing 13 km. More than 5,000 German troops were captured.

While the 78th was trying to hold the tiny hamlet of Hallu on Aug. 11, the tables were turned. German reinforcements surrounded the Canadians.

Sidney Halliday, 22 years old, was killed in action, one of about 100 members of the 78th who were killed or went missing in the Battle of Amiens.

He fell with his brothers in arms in a field and was buried under the mud in Hallu.

His military records state the body was not recovered for burial.

Identifying the remains

The locket that was key to identifying Halliday's remains had a strand of hair inside and his sweetheart Lizzie Walmsley's name on the lid. (Emmanuel Marchand/CBC)

The items unearthed, including a little gold locket, were eventually handed over to DND, along with the remains. At first the locket didn't seem relevant to their investigation, but it would prove to be a vital piece in helping identify Sidney Halliday.

When the locket was cleaned it revealed Lizzie Walmsley’s name on the lid.

On its own this wasn't helpful, but a further look at the service records showed that at some point one of the missing soldiers from the 78th had asked for a change to his will. Young men at war were pragmatic enough to realize that their chances of survival were limited, so it was standard procedure to write a will.

Those wills became part of the meticulously written war records. Sidney's records indicate that he had left most of his meagre wealth to his mother but at some point had asked for a change to be made. He asked that $10 go to Lizzie Walmsley of Winnipeg.

Walmsley went on to work at Eaton’s in Winnipeg. She lived in what is now the St. James suburb, Jim Halliday said.

Thanks to that locket, and the need to make sure he left something behind for Lizzie, Halliday will now have his name placed on a tombstone next year, when he and his comrades receive a full military funeral at the military cemetery near Caix, 28 km southeast of Amiens.

Thursday, Nov. 6 the documentary, Forgotten No More: The Lost Men of the 78th, premieres on CBC TV's Doc Zone. Produced by Lynne Chichakian and directed by Liam O'Rinn, it tells the story of four First World War soldiers and how their remains were identified 100 years after their deaths.

With files from CBC Manitoba


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