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Publication: Gazette (Montreal), The add link
Issue: 25 February 2011, page A13
Title: Soldier's remains identified
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Soldier's remains identified

First world war; Unearthed during road building project

By RANDY BOSWELL, Postmedia News February 25, 2011

A 28-year-old Irish immigrant to Alberta, who fought for this country during the First World War and died near Vimy Ridge, has finally been identified, eight years after his remains were unearthed in northern France.

Pte. Thomas Lawless has been named by a team of researchers led by a Canadian Forces forensics expert.

His remains and those of another Alberta soldier, Pte. Herbert Peterson of Berry Creek, were discovered years ago during a road-building project.

Peterson was named in 2007 after DNA testing of bone fragments established his identity.

He and his then-unidentified comrade had been buried together at a site south of the French village of Avion, following Canada's victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

But despite strenuous efforts to confirm the identity of the second soldier using historical research, genetic tests and other means, experts were unable at the time to attach a name to that man's remains.

The breakthrough finally came in December, after scientists at the University of Western Ontario - working with Defence Department forensics investigator Laurel Clegg and others - used isotope signatures from the soldier's teeth to retrace his geographical movements: from 1890s childhood in Ireland, to immigrant farmhand in southern Alberta, to front-line fighter in the 1914-18 global conflict.

That path through the world was followed by only one of several candidate Canadian soldiers whose bodies also went missing after the battles of June 8 to June 9, 1917, near Avion.

The dental isotope findings - supported by documentary evidence and the other scientific research, including a three-dimensional facial reconstruction based on the soldier's recovered skull and jawbone - led to yesterday's announcement in Edmonton, the home base of the regiment that Lawless, like Peterson, belonged to when he died nearly a century ago.

"Nearly 28,000 Canadian soldiers went missing during the Great War, Second World War and Korean War," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement announcing the identification. "New remains are discovered every year and my department and their partners work diligently to identify these fallen to ensure that their ultimate sacrifice is honoured."

MacKay's parliamentary secretary, Laurie Hawn, who attended a ceremony in Edmonton yesterday marking the identification, added: "We are thankful that Pte. Lawless will finally be laid to rest with the honour and dignity that he deserves. (He) gave his life in the name our country, and his contribution to Canada in the First World War will not soon be forgotten."

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