Remains of WWI soldiers finally laid to rest

From our November 2018 issue

By Gavin Wood – Regina, Sask.

Sgt. Archibald Wilson was born on Feb. 12, 1892 in Wilten, Stirling, Scotland. He came to Canada in the early 1900s along with several siblings and eventually they took homesteads and began farming in the Lanigan area of Saskatchewan.

Archibald’s sister, Christina, married my grandfather, Philip Wood, making him my great uncle. He and his brother John volunteered for service in WWI on Dec. 18, 1914, and another brother, Gavin, after whom I was named, joined the war effort on Jan. 17, 1916.

All three of the brothers were killed in battle; John was killed June 13, 1916 near Ypres, Belgium and is buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground in the Ypres vicinity. Gavin was killed on Dec. 11, 1916 and buried in the Louez Military Cemetery just outside of Arras, France. Archibald was killed sometime between Aug. 15 and 16 of 1917 during the battle for Hill 70. His remains were never found until fairly recently.

In the years 2010 to 2013, 15 sets of remains were discovered during excavations for commercial property very close to the area where the battle for Hill 70 was fought. Since the years 2010-2013, the Canadian Directorate of History and Heritage at National Defence has done an impressive job of research trying to locate next of kin and establish positive identification of the remains.

Between late March 2014 and March 2016, National Defence tracked me down as a possible relative of Sgt. Archibald Wilson who was known to have been fighting with the 16th Battalion CEF during the capture of Hill 70.
I was fortunate to be able to locate the only living person who could provide the required mtDNA sample that would make possible a positive identification of the remains.

In late 2017 we were finally advised that on the last set of remains that had been recovered, a positive identification was accomplished. During the same investigation, positive identification was also made for the remains of Private Henry Priddle, Private John Henry Thomas, and Private William Del Donegan.

I and my younger brother Garry, deemed the two eldest of the Wilson relatives, were sponsored to attend the military burial service on Aug. 23, 2018 for the four fallen soldiers in Arras, France. Other relatives or ours who also travelled to Arras were Holly Chong, Heather Aldrich, and Ann Bilinski (and husband, Brian), all great nieces of Sgt. Archibald Wilson. Heather Aldrich’s daughter Jolene and her husband, Brian, also accompanied us.

The fact that we could, with the help of modern technology, finally give these brave soldiers a proper burial after 101 years made this a very moving experience for the civilians and the representatives of Canada’s military personnel in attendance.

The military personnel made a point of explaining how proud they felt to be able to find, identify, and lay to rest their fallen comrades, calling it a “once in a lifetime” experience.

The burial ceremony did not go unnoticed by the local residents, either, as they readily expressed their gratitude for the sacrifice made by Canada and her brave soldiers.

Four caskets in order from the nearest: Sgt. Archibald Wilson, Private Henry Priddle, Private William Del Donegan, and Private John Henry Thomas.
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