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Battle of Hill 70 – Fallen Canadian Soldiers Identified

Photo: Canadians in a captured German trench during the Battle of Hill 70. (Library and Archives Canada)

 

The Canadian Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have identified the remains of four soldiers killed during the Great War.

Sgt. Archibald Wilson. (Heather Lee Aldrich/Holly Lynne Chong)

Privates William Del Donegan and Henry Edmonds Priddle, and Sergeant Archibald Wilson, were discovered during munitions clearance near the village of Vendin-le-Vieil between September 2010 and August 2011. The men were residents of Manitoba and enlisted in Winnipeg, serving in 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), 1st Canadian Division. The Casualty Identification Program’s Casualty Identification Review Board has confirmed their identities through historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological, and DNA analysis.

Pte. Donegan was born in Ottawa on 27 March 1897, moving to Winnipeg in his youth. A railway worker, he enlisted on 21 February 1916. Pte. Priddle was a broom-maker, born in Norwich, Ontario, on 17 May 1884. He settled in Winnipeg after marrying and enlisted on 1 April 1916. Sgt. Wilson was born on 12 February 1892 in Campsie, Scotland – one of 11 children. Wilson, with five siblings, moved to Manitoba in 1910 and became a barber before enlisting on 18 December 1914. He joined 16th Battalion in December 1915 and participated in several battles before his promotion on 4 June 1917.

Pte. Henry Priddle. (DeCooman Family)

A fourth soldier, Private John (Jack) Henry Thomas, was later identified through the same process. He was born in Chewale, Wales, on 25 January 1889, and grew up as a farmer in Birch Ridge, New Brunswick. He enlisted in Saint John on 20 April 1916, eventually serving with 26th Battalion (New Brunswick), 2nd Canadian Division. His remains were discovered on a construction site in Lens in August 2016.

1st and 2nd Divisions fought at the Battle of Hill 70 (15-25 August 1917), the first battle where the four divisions of the Canadian Corps were commanded by a Canadian – Lt-Gen. Arthur Currie. Hill 70 was of strategic importance; its advantageous position was considered by Currie to be of greater importance than control of nearby Lens. He convinced Gen. Horne, GOC 1st Army, of this, and the Canadians would succeed in seizing it. Of the 100,000 Canadian troops involved, 9,000 became casualties with 2,100 dead – 1,300 have no known grave.

Pte. John (Jack) Henry Thomas (Bonnie Murphy)

Among them were Pte. Donegan, 20, Pte. Priddle, 34, and Sgt. Wilson, 25, each killed on 16 August. Now identified, descendants have been notified and the soldiers will be buried in a public ceremony on 23 August 2018 at Loos British Military Cemetery by their perpetuated regiment, The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s), in the presence of family and Government representatives. Pte. Thomas, 28, was killed three days later in the same battle and will also be buried at a public ceremony by his perpetuated regiment, The Royal New Brunswick Regiment, in Loos British Military Cemetery on 23 August 2018.

Seamus O’Regan, Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of National Defence, stated: “A century has passed since these three soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice on a battlefield half a world away, but time has not diminished their legacy. It seems fitting that their final resting place is in the land which they helped to free.” In a separate statement, he added: “Time has not lessened our gratitude to Private Thomas. May he, and those who fell with him, never be forgotten.

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