Posts Tagged ‘Peterson’


Today saw the burial of Private Thomas Lawless, 49th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force almost 94 years after he was killed in action. He was buried with full military honours at La Chaudière Military Cemetery in Vimy with members of his family in attendance.

Burial of Private Thomas Lawless, 49th Battalion, CEF at La Chaudière Military Cemetery, Vimy on 15 March 2011

The remains of Private Lawless and Private Herbert Peterson were found by construction workers near Avion in 2003. They had been killed in August 1917. Subsequent forensic procedures identified Peterson in 2007. The positive identification of Lawless was announced last month – see my blog post: Remains of Canadian Great War soldier finally identified – Private Thomas Lawless, 49th Battalion CEF.

Some pictures of today’s ceremony from the Calgary Sun website can be viewed by clicking on:  WWI soldier buried in France.

The pictures on this blog post were taken by a friend who attended today’s burial service. I was unable to make it to Vimy and so offer my thanks to Isabelle Pilarowksi for permission to use her photographs.

Burial of Private Thomas Lawless, 49th Battalion, CEF at La Chaudière Military Cemetery, Vimy on 15 March 2011

I will be posting some pictures soon from Christian Corbet, the renowned Canadian sculptor of his work on the facial forensic reconstruction of Lawless’s face. Mr Corbet has been kind enough to supply these for my site. Please see this post for the pictures.

The Department of National Defence announced the news of today’s burial here. A full transcript of that announcement can be found below in italics.

PAS-DE-CALAIS, France – Nearly a century after his death, Private Thomas Lawless, a Canadian First World War soldier whose remains were recovered and identified on January 10, 2011, was buried today with full military honours at La Chaudière Military Cemetery, in Vimy, France.

“The courage and dedication of our Canadian First World War heroes will never be forgotten,” said the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence. “After all these years, we finally recognize Private Thomas Lawless with the honour and dignity he so greatly deserves.”

Private Lawless was born on April 11, 1889, in Dublin, Ireland, and enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Calgary, Alberta. He was a member of the 49th Battalion, CEF, who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Veterans Affairs Canada has provided support to the family members of Private Lawless and has also coordinated their participation in the interment ceremony.

“It is very gratifying that we can properly lay to rest a Canadian who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our way of life,” said Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture). “We are now able to share Private Lawless’s full story of courage with other Canadians and assure his family that we will remember him.”

In October 2003, two sets of human remains were found at a construction site in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge, France. The first soldier was identified in February 2007, as Private Herbert Peterson of Berry Creek, Alberta. On January 10, 2011, Private Lawless’ remains were identified by the Casualty Identification section of the Directorate of History and Heritage after a combination of anthropological, historical and biological research such as generic testing, osteology, facial reconstruction and military historic records were conclusive.

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I was delighted to read that a Canadian casualty of the Great War whose remains were found by construction workers near Avion in 2003 have now been identified using DNA. The man, a 28-year-old Irish immigrant 183425 Private Thomas Lawless, 49th Battalion (Alberta Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force was killed in a raid on the German lines on 9 June 1917.

49th Bn War Diary extract 8th - 9th June 1917. Note the large losses - including 131 Other Ranks wounded and 15 O.R. missing. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Press reports indicate that his remains, along with those of 808723 Private Herbert Peterson of the same battalion, were discovered during a road-building project. Private Peterson’s remains were positively identified in 2007 and were buried with full military honours at La Chaudière Military Cemetery in Vimy in the same year.

The burial of Private Herbert Peterson in 2007. He was killed on 9 June 1917 near Avion and his remains were found by construction workers in 2003. Image by Michael Springler taken from www.reallygoodfriend.com

It took six years of research and testing before forensic scientists and DNA specialists could positively identify Thomas Lawless. The remains of both men had been returned to Canada because metal insignia identified their battalion and nationality.

The story has been covered in the Canadian Press. Links below to the Edmonton Journal and The Vancouver Sun.

Edmonton Journal – Remains of First World War Alberta soldier finally identified: Body of Pte. Thomas Lawless discovered in France in 2003

The Vancouver Sun – Researchers ID fallen soldier from First World War

Thomas Lawless’s details are recorded in the CWGC register HERE.  Interestingly he is reported as being buried in La Chaudière Military Cemetery in Vimy, despite the service not taking place until 15 March 2011. The service will take place with members of his Irish family in attendance.

La Chaudière Military Cemetery. Image taken from www.cwgc.org

As a ‘missing’ Canadian soldier, Thomas Lawless is still commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. The memorial is inscribed with the names of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who were posted as ‘missing, presumed dead’ in France. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial confirms that Thomas Lawless is on the Vimy Memorial: PRIVATE THOMAS LAWLESS

Below is the official notification of the positive identification of Private Lawless:  Historic Casualty Identification

BG–11.002 – February 24, 2011

The Government of Canada, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces are dedicated to honouring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by ensuring that, when possible, they will be identified and buried in a known grave.

Nearly 28 000 members of Canada’s Army, Air Force, and Navy who died in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War have no known or maintainable grave. The majority of these service personnel – approximately 19 500 – went missing in France and Belgium during the First World War. Every year, some of the formerly missing are discovered, and the Department of National Defence is responsible for using historical and scientific methods to determine their identity.

Identification is the result of a collection of historical research and biological tests which eventually determine the most likely serviceman.

The first step in identification is to search records, such as military personnel records, burial registrar records, war diaries and maps, and regimental histories to create an historical profile of the unknown person. Purely historical identifications are rare, however, and DND usually seeks biological evidence to support other documents.

Biological anthropologists study the remains to determine the number of persons, their ages and heights, their dental health, their overall health and if possible, clues as to how they may have died. The resulting profile can further reduce the final list of candidates, and genetic testing of the remaining candidates can lead to an identification or reduce the candidate pool further.

Genetic testing of war remains requires that DNA be extracted from bone or teeth and then compared with genetic material donated by the descendents of the candidates.

Unfortunately, the use of DNA, while a method which has made identification more likely, can be limited by the availability of donors and the difficulty of extracting viable DNA from older remains. More recently, National Defence has used stable isotope technology to help differentiate the origins of candidates. By using the regional properties of certain elements to track the mobility of an individual, stable isotope technology can detect the locations in which an individual has been raised (to the age of approximately 21) and the locations in which an individual lived in the final ten to fifteen years of their lives. Such testing allows DND to exclude candidates based on where they were raised or where they lived prior to enlistment.

No doubt new technologies and increased access to historical documents will further enhance the precision and ability to identify Canada’s unknown soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen.

I think this is a great job by the Canadians and shows what can be done with some dedication and by providing the necessary budget. My congratulations go the Canadian government but also to the unsung heroes – the many professionals whose collaborative efforts in freely offering their time made this historical identification possible. Now, owing to their efforts, Private Lawless can finally rest in peace in a named grave. It would be wonderful if a similar effort was found in providing positive ID to the bodies of fifteen men from the York and Lancaster Regiment who were found in the French village of Beaucamps-Ligny in November 2009.

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