Identifying Canada’s unknown soldiers

Tom Baker reports on the important work of the Canadian Casualty Identification Program

Sergeant Arthur Melvin, buried in an unmarked grave in Bois Carre British cemetery, was identified in 2019
IMAGES COURTESY OF THE CANADIAN CASUALTY IDENTIFICATION PROGRAM UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED

For a century, the remains of Lieutenant Francis Helmsley, Sergeant Major Alexander McVean and Sergeant Arthur Melvin – all Canadians serving in World War One – rested anonymously beneath French fields, or below headstones marked simply ‘Known unto God’.

However, the three men were identified through the painstaking work of the Canadian Casualty Identification Program (CCIP), formed in 2007 to ensure that Canadian remains are properly recorded. With some 27,000 Canadians still listed as missing and 7,000 soldiers buried beneath anonymous headstones, Dr Sarah Lockyer and her team consider their work not only vital but “a sacred responsibility”.

Speaking to Britain at War, Dr Lockyer, a forensic anthropologist who oversees the programme, explained the origins of the organisation:

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