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Thomas Lawless

Unknown First World War soldier finally identified as Irish emigrant

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Thomas Lawless

After nearly a century, a 28-year-old First World War unknown soldier has been identified  as an Irish immigrant a full eight years after his remains were discovered in Northern France.

Private Thomas Lawless was a member of the 49th Battalion, which was based in Edmonton, Canada in the early 1900s. He lost his life during a raid in Northern France 94 years ago and had been officially listed as missing until his identity became known last January.

Lawless was born in Ireland on April 11, 1889 but later came to Canada and settled in Calgary before he enlisted in the war.

“Like his comrades, he gave so much to make Canada what it is today,” said Laurie Hawn, MP for Edmonton Center, during the announcement at the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum on Thursday.

The news has offered Lawless’s descendants a sense of connection to Canadian military history.

“I knew I had relatives in the Second World War, but I had no idea about the First World War,” said 72-year-old Al McLaren.

The soldier’s remains were discovered in October 2003 by construction workers by in Northern France. Lawless’s skull and jawbone were found along with the remains of another unidentified soldier. Both were returned to Canada because of the metal insignia identifying their battalion.

Remains of the first soldier were identified in 2007 as Private Herbert Peterson of Berry Creek, Alta. However, it took scientists six years of research and testing to identity Lawless.

Military records helped researchers establish that Lawless had been listed as missing which in turn helped doctors and scientists narrow their search down.

Laurel Clegg, casualty identification co-coordinator with the Department of National Defense, described the identification process as complex.

“We’re learning how to take these modern technologies and apply them to these cases,” she said.

“You don’t just use one tool; you try to use as many tools as you can. And eventually you just start eliminating until you get down to one person.”

Almost 28,000 Canadian soldiers were declared missing after both world wars and the Korean War.

Lawless’s remains will be buried at La Chaudière Military Cemetery in Vimy, France next month with members of his Irish clan in attendance.

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