The Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have identified the remains of a First World War soldier found in a field outside Arleux-en-Gohelle, France, as those of Sergeant James Alexander Milne from Kincardineshire, Scotland, and then Calgary, Alberta. Sergeant Milne was a member of the 10th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, a unit perpetuated by The Royal Winnipeg Rifles and The Calgary Highlanders.
DND and the CAF have also concluded an investigation into a second set of remains, found about seven kilometres away at Thélus, Pas de Calais, France, and belonging to a Canadian First World War soldier whose identity cannot be determined at this time. Both maternal and paternal DNA profiles have been obtained from this set of remains with the hope of a future identification.
As we prepare to mark the 100th anniversary of the famous battle at Vimy Ridge, DND and the CAF have notified members of Sergeant Milne’s family, and Veterans Affairs Canada is providing them with ongoing support. Sergeant Milne will be buried at a cemetery outside Arleux-en-Gohelle later this year by his Regiment. The unidentified soldier will be laid to rest later this year at Canadian Cemetery No. 2, Neuville-St. Vaast, France.
The goal of DND’s Casualty Identification Program is to identify unknown soldiers when their remains are discovered, so that they may be buried with a name by their Regiment and in the presence of their family. In striving towards this aim, the program fosters a sense of continuity and identity within the CAF, as it provides an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect upon the experiences of those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“We are thankful for the efforts of the Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives and the Service archéologique municipal d’Arras of France, for the support of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and for the ingenuity of the Canadian Conservation Institute, which enabled our officers to identify Sergeant Milne, and to conclude the investigation into the unidentified soldier found at Thélus. We will not forget that these men gave all they had so that a century later, we might live in peace.”
Harjit S. Sajjan, Defence Minister
“Like far too many soldiers who fought in France during the First World War, Sergeant Milne gave his life in service to Canada. The unidentified soldier found at Thélus reminds us of the many brave Canadians still missing or buried without a name from this terrible conflict. We will lay them both to rest with the honour which they and their families deserve in return for their sacrifice.”
Kent Hehr, Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of National Defence
"The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is honoured to have assisted in bringing the discovery of Sergeant Milne, and his unidentified countryman, to the attention of his country, and will be honoured again later this year to mark their places of rest with headstones, so that their personal sacrifice may be perpetually remembered."
Brigadier-General (Ret.) David Kettle, Secretary General, the Canadian Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Sergeant Milne was born in Gellybrands, Cookney, Kincardineshire, Scotland, on February 10, 1883. Raised by his maternal grandmother, he immigrated to Canada at some time between 1905 and 1911. An unmarried labourer, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Calgary, Alberta, on January 27, 1915, at the age of 31. He was killed on April 28, 1917, in connection with an operation against a German position known as the Arleux-Loop. He was 34 at the time of his death.
On May 13, 2013, an archaeological team from the Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives discovered human remains with associated First World War artefacts in a field on the outskirts of Arleux-en-Gohelle, France. The team had been carrying out a mandatory archaeological survey of the land, a known battlefield of the First World War, before the construction of a housing estate. The remains were later identified as those of Sergeant Milne.
The unidentified soldier was discovered by the Service archéologique municipal d’Arras on September 27, 2012, during an excavation prior to the construction of an industrial estate. Found without personal or unit identifiers, but with a metal “CANADA” insignia such as would be found on a military tunic, he cannot be identified except as one of 3,426 Canadian servicemen missing from the 10-month period of action at Vimy. He would have died between November 1, 1916, and the end of July 1917.
In both cases, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) was notified, and took possession of the remains and artefacts, transporting them to a CWGC facility in Beaurains, France, for safekeeping.
Sergeant Milne’s identification, and the conclusion of the investigation into the unidentified soldier, resulted from a review of historical context, an examination of material evidence, and forensic anthropological analysis by DND’s Casualty Identification Program. In the case of Sergeant Milne, the restoration of an identification disc by the Canadian Conservation Institute was critical to the success of the investigation.
In the case of the unidentified soldier, maternal and paternal DNA profiles and a stable isotope profile (which can help determine where a person grew up, and where they spent the last years of their life) have been captured by the Casualty Identification Program to aid in possible future identification.