Remembrance Day 2022: Canada’s ultimate honour: identifying her dead

Mr. David Carey receiving the Canadian flag and medals belonging to his great-uncle Flight Sergeant John Joseph Carey. (Dept. of National Defence military history photo)Mr. David Carey receiving the Canadian flag and medals belonging to his great-uncle Flight Sergeant John Joseph Carey. (Dept. of National Defence military history photo)
Human remains are found by archaeologists while excavating a known battle site in France. Others turn up during road work, construction projects and farming. (Commonwealth War Graves Commission photo)Human remains are found by archaeologists while excavating a known battle site in France. Others turn up during road work, construction projects and farming. (Commonwealth War Graves Commission photo)
Loos British Cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle, France, where Sgt. Richard Musgrave will finally take his place alongside fellow veterans. The official news release doesn’t explain why the Scottish-born Musgrave who was killed while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force is being interred in a British cemetery. (Commonwealth War Graves Commission photo)Loos British Cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle, France, where Sgt. Richard Musgrave will finally take his place alongside fellow veterans. The official news release doesn’t explain why the Scottish-born Musgrave who was killed while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force is being interred in a British cemetery. (Commonwealth War Graves Commission photo)
Military Medal Ribbon (left) found with the remains of Sgt Richard Musgrave. (Dept. of History/Heritage photo)Military Medal Ribbon (left) found with the remains of Sgt Richard Musgrave. (Dept. of History/Heritage photo)
Orchard Dump Cemetery in France is one of many beautifully and lovingly maintained military cemeteries of both world wars in Europe. (Government of Canada photo)Orchard Dump Cemetery in France is one of many beautifully and lovingly maintained military cemeteries of both world wars in Europe. (Government of Canada photo)
Sergeant Richard Musgrave. Born Sept. 22, 1884 in Blackrigg, Canomie, Scotland, he served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force; he was declared missing as of Aug. 15, 1917. (Musgrave Family photo)Sergeant Richard Musgrave. Born Sept. 22, 1884 in Blackrigg, Canomie, Scotland, he served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force; he was declared missing as of Aug. 15, 1917. (Musgrave Family photo)
Sergeant Richard Musgrave. Born Sept. 22, 1884 in Blackrigg, Canomie, Scotland, he served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force; he was declared missing as of Aug. 15, 1917. (Musgrave Family photo)Sergeant Richard Musgrave. Born Sept. 22, 1884 in Blackrigg, Canomie, Scotland, he served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force; he was declared missing as of Aug. 15, 1917. (Musgrave Family photo)

By T.W. Paterson

To quote a folk song of the anti-Vietnam War period:

“It’s a soldier’s job to stop a bullet, So they say

So he stops a bullet; Then they stop his pay.”

Cynical? Of course. But is that how it really works, the government stops caring for its war dead other than maintaining their overseas graves and inscribing their names on regional monuments?

Happily, no. In fact, there’s a federal departmental program that should warm the heart of any thinking, caring Canadian. Whereas most of us limit our annual homage to the week or so leading up to Remembrance Day, this government agency is on the job, year-round — has been, in fact, for more than a decade with no end in sight.

To quote its website, the Casualty Identification Program works to identify newly found skeletal remains and pre-existing unknown graves of Canadian service members from the First World War, the Second World War and the United Nations Operations in Korea (Korean Conflict). “In 2019, the Program began to formally confirm the identification of ‘unknown’ graves in response to an increasing number of historically-based research reports received from external researchers.”

What may sound gruesome to some is a duty of reverence for these government sleuths who, using the latest in scientific tools and technology, strive to bring closure to the 27,000 files of servicemen with no known graves from the First World War alone, plus those of the Second World and Korean wars: “When skeletal remains are discovered, the Program attempts to identify the Canadian service members and provide them with a proper military burial. When historical research suggests a Canadian occupant of an unidentified war grave, the Program attempts to confirm the identification and, if successful, requests a new headstone with the service member’s name.”

Even before Armistice in November 1918, Canada’s Graves Registration Units and the Imperial War Graves Commission (today’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission) began trying to identify and provide Canadian service members with proper burials. Those for whom there were no means of identification (this was long before DNA) were buried as an “unknown” and commemorated on memorials to the missing such as the one at Vimy Ridge.

This program of active searches for the remains of Commonwealth soldiers was suspended after 1921 but Commonwealth countries including Canada continue to try to identify the remains of missing service members that continue to be found more than a century after Armistice in the case of First World War casualties. Canada’s Casualty Identification Program also works to identify service members “who are buried under an “unknown” headstone.

“Investigations for skeletal remains begin when they are discovered and identified as Canadian war dead because of an artefact that identifies Canada, or the military history of the area of discovery. The [CIP] uses a number of historical and scientific research methods to identify the remains. Investigations for ‘unknown’ graves begin when external researchers submit detailed research reports that suggests the identity of an ‘unknown’ grave as belonging to a Canadian war dead. The [CIP] then conducts extensive historical research to confirm the findings and possibly identify the grave.

“When the [CIP’s] investigation is successful, identified human remains are buried with a name, by their unit, and in the presence of their family. When an identification of an ‘unknown’ grave is successful, the headstone is replaced with one that fully identifies the individual and a small re-dedication ceremony is held.”

The sites of many European Great War battles continue to yield skeletal remains or artifacts that draw the forensic attention of these scientists. Dental records, if they exist, play an important role. Most recently, in 2017, human remains found north of Lens, France, were confirmed as those of Sergeant Richard Musgrave of the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion (British Columbia), Canadian Expeditionary Force who went missing in action, Aug. 15, 1917, aged 32.

According to the Dept. of National Defence military history website, his only listed parent was Rebecca Musgrave and he also left a sister, Jeannie (Jane) Musgrave. On April 30, 1915, the 30-year-old Calgary teamster enlisted with the 56th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and sailed from Montreal for training in Shorncliffe Army Camp, England, two months later. In France, in February 1916, he was assigned to the 7th Infantry Battalion. By mid-March of the following year he was a sergeant. Wounded in April, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in July.

He was lost during the 10-day-long Battle of Hill 70 that claimed 10,000 Canadians killed, wounded or missing. Of the 7th Battalion’s more than 140 men casualties, 118 were missing and never found, among them Sgt. Musgrave who was presumed to have died as part of the battle. His name was subsequently engraved on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial that commemorates Canadian soldiers of the First World War who have no known grave.

In July 2017 — a month shy of a century since Sgt. Musgrave vanished, skeletal human remains were discovered during a munitions clearing process near Tue Léon Droux and Rue des Poissonniers, north of Lens, France. Among the few artifacts found with the remains were a Military Medal ribbon and a whistle.

In an understatement of professional modesty, the Casualty Identification Program described what followed thus: “Through historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological, and DNA analysis, with the assistance of the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team, and the Canadian Museum of History, the Casualty Identification Review Board was able to confirm the identity of the remains as those of Sergeant Richard Musgrave in October 2021.”

One more of Canada’s legion of missing servicemen from the First World War has been officially identified. As of March this year, it was reported that Sergeant Musgrave will be buried by The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) “at the earliest opportunity” in Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Loos British Cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle, France.

The wonders of DNA and the growing popularity of genealogical research have helped the [CIP] to locate family members of missing service members who are able and willing to give a DNA sample. Participation in the investigation by family members is voluntary. Since 2007, the Casualty Identification Program has successfully identified the human remains of 31 Canadians; sadly, five sets of remains that defied identification had to be interred as unknown soldiers.

Why, one might ask, do they go to so much trouble? Because “the Casualty Identification Program promotes a strong sense of continuity and identity within the Canadian Armed Forces. The attempt to give a name to each missing Canadian military fatality is a very important goal for the Canadian Armed Forces.”

(For further information on Sergeant Musgrave, you can view his personnel file on Library and Archives Canada’s website.)

Roll of identified casualties

The following servicemen have been identified through the Casualty Identification Program.

First World War Personnel

• 1916 — The Battle of Thiepval Ridge, France, 26-29 September

◦ Company Sergeant-Major David George Parfitt

• 1917 — The Attack on the Arleux Loop, France, 23-28 April

◦ Sergeant Milne, James Alexander

• 1917 — Raids along the Souchez River, France, May – June

◦ Private Lawless, Thomas

◦ Private Peterson, Herbert

• 1917 — Belgium, 31 July – 10 November

◦ Private Lambert, John

• 1917 — The Battle of Hill 70, France, 15-25 August

◦ Private Donegan, William Del

◦ Private Johnston, Reginald Joseph Winfield

◦ Sergeant Musgrave, Richard

◦ Private Newburn, George Alfred

◦ Private Priddle, Henry Edmonds

◦ Sergeant Shaughnessy, Harold Wilfred

◦ Private Thomas, John Henry

◦ Sergeant Wilson, Archibald

• 1918 — The Battle of Amiens, France, 8-11 August

◦ Private Halliday, Sidney

◦ Lance Sergeant Lindell, John Oscar

◦ Private McKinnon, Lachlan

◦ Lieutenant Neelands, Clifford Abraham

◦ Private Simms, William

• 1918 — The Second Battle of Arras, 26 August – 3 September

◦ Lance Corporal Jenkins, Morgan Jones

• 1918 — Crossing the Canal du Nord, France, 27 September

◦ Private Johnston, Alexander

◦ Corporal Ledingham, George Herbert

Second World War Personnel

• British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Canada

◦ Sergeant Baird, William

◦ Leading Aircraftman Bates, Theodore Scribner

• Bomber Command

◦ 1942 — Bonn, Germany

▪ Flight Sergeant Carey, John Joseph

◦ 1943 — Olen, Belgium

▪ Warrant Officer Class II Vidal, Aymeric Essex

◦ 1944 — Warsaw, Poland

▪ Flight Lieutenant Blynn, Arnold Raymond

▪ Flying Officer Brown, Harold Leonard

▪ Pilot Officer Chapman, George Alfred

▪ Flight Sergeant Liddell, Arthur George William

▪ Flight Sergeant Wylie, Charles Burton

◦ 1944 — Normandy, France

▪ Flying Officer Goring, Francis Carlyle

◦ 1944 — Wierden, Netherlands

▪ Pilot Officer Harrington, Timothy Ambrose

• 1944 — The Normandy Campaign, France, 6-23 August

◦ Sergeant Collis, John Albert

◦ Private Ferns, Ralph Tupper

• 1944 — Battle of Scheldt (Crossing the Leopold Canal), Belgium, 13-14 September

◦ Private Duncanson, Kenneth Donald

• 1945 — The Fighting at Kapelsche Veer, Netherlands, 26-31 January

◦ Private Barritt, George Robert *

◦ Private Beaudry, Charles Joseph *

◦ Private Laubenstein, Albert

• 1945 The Rhine Crossing, 23 March to 22 April

◦ Lieutenant Kavanagh, John Gordon

• 1945 — The Roer, Germany, 16-27 January

◦ Trooper Johnston, Henry George

* Soldiers identified prior to the official creation of the Casualty Identification Program

Remembrance Day