St. Stephen – A signet ring, dog tags, and uniform insignia have helped identify a former St. Stephen resident, killed in World War I.
The Department of National Defence announced last Friday the remains of a soldier, Sgt. Harold Wilfred Shaughnessy, of St. Stephen, were found on June 6, 2016, during a munitions clearing process, in advance of a construction project near the village of Vendin-le-Veil, France.
Shaughnessy was killed on Aug. 15, 1917, during the Battle of Hill 70. He was 33 years old.
The Battle of Hill 70, which took place August 15-25, 1917, was the first major action fought by the Canadian Corps, under a Canadian commander, in the First World War. Approximately 2,100 Canadians gave their lives in the battle; over 1,300 of these have no known grave.
Shaughnessy’s closest known relatives, in Boston, Mass., were notified of the discovery of his remains.
News of the discovery was greeted with amazement in St. Stephen.
Local historian Darren McCabe said he was impressed with the passion, and integrity, with which researchers tackled the quest of verifying Shaughnessy’s identity, and with the forensic tools available to do so 100 years after the soldier’s death.
“The passion to do that, to care enough. It’s nice that they’re still bringing him ‘home’, that he will have full military honours. His remains will get the recognition, and the honours it so deserved back in the time that he never got.”
When Shaughnessy’s remains were discovered the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) was notified, and with the support of French regional authorities, took possession of the remains and artifacts, transporting them to a CWGC facility in Beaurains, France, for safekeeping.
According to a DND press release, Shaughnessy’s identification resulted from a review of historical context, an examination of material evidence (including an identification disc and a signet ring), and forensic anthropological analysis. The identification was made by DND’s Casualty Identification Program.
Shaughnessy will be buried at Loos British Cemetery, outside Loos-en-Gohelle, France, later this year by his regiment, the 13th Canadian Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), a unit perpetuated by The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada in Montreal.
McCabe said there was a bit of confusion over the identification of Shaughnessy’s unit.
He was wearing the uniform of the 73rd battalion, but actually went into battle with the 13th battalion, wearing his old insignia because his new ones hadn’t been issued.
McCabe said one of the sergeant’s last known relatives locally was the late Margaret Shaughnessy, who died in 2009.
He pointed out the inclusion of Shaughnessy’s name on the local cenotaph noting he was pleased the soldier would be buried with his comrades in France, but “he’s remembered here.”
Wayne Spires, president of St. Croix Branch No. 9, Royal Canadian Legion in St. Stephen, said the legion is looking at ways to honour Shaughnessy, perhaps in this year’s Remembrance Day service.
“We want to give him a fitting tribute.”