The remains of Private Harry Atherton were discovered in July 2017 and his identification was announced by the Department of National Defence in October 2022. Last June, he was buried by his perpetuating unit, The Calgary Highlanders (seen here), with his family in attendance. Private Atherton died on August 15, 1917, during the first day of the Battle of Hill 70 at the age of 24 – Supplied Photo
Time does not diminish their courage, or the cost paid by the Canadian service members who defended our rights and freedoms in war. Whether it was more than a century ago during the Great War, or 10,000 kilometres away at the scene of the Korean Conflict, we as Canadians have a responsibility to remember their valour and dedication to duty.
But not all those who made the ultimate sacrifice have been laid to rest in a known grave, and in order to honour them we must first know them. It is the work of the Casualty Identification Program, under the Directorate of History and Heritage, to identify the remains of Canadian war dead so that they may be buried with their name, by their regiment, and in the presence of family.
Dr. Sarah Lockyer, Casualty Identification Coordinator and forensic anthropologist for the Canadian Armed Forces, says her goal is to return the names and faces to those who died in service to Canada. She knows just how important that is.
“The families of those we have identified and those who are still missing show us why this work is important,” Dr. Lockyer said. “I have heard many stories of families continuing to honour their ancestors who died in conflict and have no known grave, no matter how much time or how many generations have passed.”
Despite their best efforts and their numerous successes in identifying Canada’s war dead – and closing the chapter for so many families missing a loved one – the work of the Casualty ID Program is far from over. There are nearly 28,000 Canadian military members who died in the First World War, the Second World War, and the conflict in Korea with no known final resting place, including those buried as unknowns.
The process of identifying remains discovered during construction, farming activity or roadwork is so exacting it can take years, sometimes up to a decade, before an identity is confirmed. In order to accelerate the identification process, the Casualty ID Program has created an online registration form. Family members of those whose final resting place is not known can help in the program’s investigations by completing the form and providing valuable information about the soldier and relevant family information, such as genealogy.
Only your contact information and information about the soldier who is a part of your family is required. All personal information will be protected, used and disclosed in accordance with the Privacy Act. To sign up, Register to help identify Canadian war dead with no known grave.
Since it was founded in 2007, the Casualty Identification Program has identified the remains of 35 Canadians. In 2019, the Program officially took on the additional responsibility of identifying the graves of Canadian service members buried as unknowns, and has since identified 12. There are currently 39 active investigations involving remains, and 38 involving graves.
For more information on the Casualty Identification Program, please visit the Casualty Identification Program webpage.