Remains of Canadian First World War soldier who died more than 100 years ago identified
(CNN Newsource) - The remains of a Canadian soldier who fought in multiple battles during the First World War — returning to the front at one point after being wounded — have been identified more than 100 years after his death, the federal government announced on Friday.
The Department of National Defense and Canadian Armed Forces said in a news release that the remains of Private Harry Atherton, recovered in France more than five years ago, were confirmed through historical, genealogical, anthropological, archeological and DNA analysis.
Atherton fought with the 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion on the first day of the Battle of Hill 70 near Lens in northern France on Aug. 15, 1917.
Although he was reported wounded, later reports said he had been killed in action at 24 years old.
The Canadian Armed Forces has notified Atherton's family and plans are to bury him at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Loos British Cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle, France, near Lens.
"The identification of Pvt. Atherton gives the Canadian Armed Forces the opportunity to pay its respects and provide him with a final resting place," Defense Minister Anita Anand said in a statement.
"His courage and selfless service can never be fully repaid. But Canada will remember and honor him, and those like him who gave so much for this country in the First World War. To his family I extend my sympathy and gratitude."
Atherton's remains were recovered during a munitions clearing north of Lens on July 11, 2017, along with an identification disc and 10th Battalion insignia.
The Canadian Armed Forces Casualty Identification Review Board confirmed the identity of Atherton's remains in October 2021, with help from the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team and Canadian Museum of History. He joins eight other Canadian soldiers who died in the Battle of Hill 70 and whose remains were later identified.
Born in Leigh, England in 1893, Atherton grew up in Tyldesley, England, before moving on his own to Canada in 1913. After settling in McBride, B.C., Atherton worked as a carpenter before enlisting in March 1916.
He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force with the 63rd Canadian Infantry Battalion in Edmonton at 23. He left port the following month for England from Saint John, N.B., and arrived in France in July 1916 with the 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion.
Atherton fought in several battles before being wounded and spent a few months in England recovering. He returned to the front in March 1917.
The Battle of Hill 70 lasted from Aug. 15 to Aug. 25, 1917. Although the battle resulted in the capture of Hill 70, it left more than 10,000 Canadians killed, wounded or missing.
Atherton's name is also engraved on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, which includes those who died in France and have no known grave.
Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said while it has been more than a century since Atherton died in the Battle of Hill 70, he is proud that he can be provided a proper burial.
"His contributions to Canada will never be forgotten," MacAulay said. "Lest we forget."