Thursday, 6 November 2014

Going Home: World War I Solidiers Identified

First off, much thanks to you all for reading my little blog. I finally have about ten of you reading it on a daily basis, and that's really nice. I just love history so I'm glad to share some of this love with you.

Now, enough of the mushy stuff...oh actually there is more. Get your Kleenex out.

Sidney Halliday
Sidney Halliday

Good news from the field of muck. No, not the much-embattled CBC, but their report on the identification of soldiers from WWI from the mud of France. The remains of a unknown soldier have now been identified as Canadian Pte. Sidney Halliday. The Department of National Defence (DND)announced today that they had identified Halliday's remains. His remains was one of eight discovered together in France in 2006. DND revealed the identities of four others September 27.

The feel good part is how he was identified.  His sweetheart Lizzie gave him a locket with her hair. He carried that all though the war and it remained on his body when he was killed by a bullet to the head in 1918. When they found the locket, they could see her name etched on it.  Thanks to 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. The researches put all of it together and realized that these were the remains of Sidney.

How'd he get there?


Tim Cook write in Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting The Great War 1917-1918 about the Battle of Amiens, where Haillday died. It began before dawn on Aug. 8, 1918.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," he writes. Cook also says that 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. 100 men were killed or went missing that day. These men were unknown and were buried there where they fell. 
Hallu, France today. Yeah war has a funny way of destroying everything

How did they do this after he and his fellow soldiers were in the dirt for 96 years?


First thing is someone has to find them. France is littered with the bits and bones of the dead from two world wars. A teenager in this case, Fabien Demeusere, was poking around in his backyard which use to be the town of  Hallu for military belts and other items. Surprise: He found their bodies instead. I imagine he pooped his pants at finding some dead guy's skull in his yard.

He did the right thing and called the police and government, They realized these were probably Canadians and called the Department of National Defence. The task of identifying the remains fell to Casualty Identification Coordinator, Laurel Clegg. Using official war records that contained ages and heights of the missing, Laurel was able to narrow down the possibilities. Genealogist Janet Roy helped find descendants of the missing men from the 78th. DNA was used to positively identify five of the eight: Lieutenant Clifford Neelands and Privates Lachlan McKinnon, William Simms, Sgt. John Lindell, and now Halliday.

 For more on the men of his regiment, I suggest the documentary Forgotten No More, The Lost Men of the 78th, which will be broadcast on CBC on November 7th.

Why you should give a toss?


I always like to give a reason why you should give a shit about a 96 year old dead guy. For one, the amazing work of the team at DND should be recognized and celebrated. No way was this easy to do as they crawled through documents and details for the last six years.

Also he's just not a name - Halliday was a human being who died from a gun shot to the head in a stupid war. He had dreams, friends, a girlfriend, family who missed him and never got to bury a body. His surviving nephew Jim Halliday said to the CBC:
"I guess it makes you feel as if he just passed away, instead of all those many years's a strange feeling. It's one you can't really explain all that well, brought some sense of closure, as they say."
And maybe when we honour all our dead, we find maybe we think long and hard if we want to add to the list of our war dead with our modern wars and military actions.

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