More than 100 years after a Canadian soldier disappeared on a bloody battlefield during the First World War, his remains have been identified after being found in France.
sergeant. Richard Musgrave will now be honored with a full military burial in France with his family, following confirmation from the Department of National Defense this week.
For Musgrave’s family, who have never forgotten the fallen soldier, the news is a great comfort.
The discovery marks the final chapter in a long story marked by courage, tragedy and, finally, closure.
“I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it,” James Musgrave Coltman, the soldier’s great-nephew, told CBC News from Scotland.
“After all that, 100 years, and suddenly it’s coming back.”
A one-way ticket to Calgary
Richard Musgrave was born in Blackrigg, Scotland in 1884 and worked as a carriage when he came to Canada.
“The man he worked for sold two horses to someone in Canada, who I believe was in Calgary…and he delivered them to the buyer,” Coltman said.
“He only had a one-way ticket. When he got to Calgary, the job was done. [and it was] ‘Hard, you’re all alone.'”
Everything Coltman knows about his ancestor comes from his grandmother, Musgrave’s sister.
Some details are vague because Musgrave did not write home very often.
But the Department of National Defense said he continued to work as a crewmate in Calgary before enlisting in the Canadian Forces on April 30, 1915.
Missing and presumed dead
After training in England, Musgrave went to France in 1916 and graduated from private to sergeant the following year.
Although wounded in action in April 1917, he remained in service and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in July.
The following month, as a member of the 7th Infantry Battalion, he was sent to what would become the Battle of Hill 70 near Lens, France.
The Battle of Hill 70 took place shortly after Vimy Ridge and was a similar type of assault, said Kent Griffiths, a retired Canadian Armed Forces major and curator of the Calgary Highlanders Museum and Archives of the Military. Calgary Museums.
“It was again the use of a creeping barrage, where the artillery would fire right in front of the assault troops, so the enemy would stay in their trenches because the artillery was shelling them,” Griffiths said. .
“And the assault troops would just take control of the heights.”
There were a lot of lost soldiers, Griffith said. The bodies of many soldiers killed in action during the war in France have never been found.
On August 15, 1917, the first day of the battle, Musgrave was reported missing and presumed dead. He was 32 years old.
“Although it goes back 100 years, Dick has always been on our minds,” James said.
There was a picture of him hanging in his grandmother’s house, he said, along with a fresh poppy every year.
The biological profile
Almost five years ago, staff from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission recovered the remains and several artifacts, including a military medal ribbon and a whistle, while clearing munitions north of Lens.
The process is common in parts of Europe, said Sarah Lockyer. She is a victim identification program coordinator and forensic anthropologist with the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence.
“Especially in France and Belgium, when construction is about to start at certain sites, there are demining teams passing by to remove all the unexploded ordnance,” she said.
Historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological and DNA analyzes would be carried out to identify the remains. In May 2018, Lockyer traveled to France to analyze them.
“You lay everything out anatomically on a table, and then you look at very specific areas of the body to do the biological profiling,” she said.
The main candidate
According to Lockyer, age and height are important factors to consider, because although soldiers – including Musgrave – sometimes lied about age when enlisting, it appears in their personal records.
“Globally, [Musgrave’s remains were] in very good condition,” she said.
Lockyer also inventories artifacts found with remains – a process she says is “essential in helping us identify who this individual is”.
Those found with Musgrave included collar badges and a BC hat badge that invited the team to lean on the 7th Battalion. A military medal ribbon and a whistle, meanwhile, indicated someone of higher rank.
In the end, there were four candidates from the 7th Battalion who fit the parameters of the discovery, Lockyer said. But there was only one who “really hit four of those categories exactly as we needed to”, and that was Musgrave.
“He was really our lead candidate,” she said.
Next, a DNA donor had to be found through genealogical research to compare with the remains. That donor was found in the UK, which provided a buccal swab, Lockyer said.
“Usually about two or three months after the lab receives the DNA test kit from the donor, we get the results,” Lockyer said.
“In this case they were positive. They ended up being Sergeant Musgrave.”
According to Lockyer, the Department of National Defense’s Casualty Identification Program exists specifically to identify newly discovered remains of Canadian military personnel.
“So that they can be honored as they should be, and with a full military burial performed by members of their own regiment,” Lockyer said.
“And have a headstone with their name on it, so their family can be there that day.”
Musgrave is the 32nd service member the Victim Identification Program has been able to identify since its inception in 2007.
Yet more than 27,000 Canadians have disappeared from the First World War, the Second World War and the conflict in Korea.
“This work is important personally, as a forensic anthropologist, to be able to get this individual’s name and face back to them,” Lockyer said.
“My military colleagues tell me that for them it is very important because … if the worst were to happen to them today, they would know that there is someone who would still work to, you know, identify them after their dead.”
In the coming months, Musgrave will receive a full military burial in France attended by his family, Canadian soldiers and officials.
When asked how important it was for his family to know what happened to his great-uncle, Coltman’s response was immediate.
“Very,” he said. “Very.”