BURIAL OF A CANADIAN SOLDIER
A Canadian soldier killed in the Battle of the Somme was buried in ADANAC Cemetery on Thursday 12th November 1998.
The story began in mid-July, when a Courcelette farmer was laying drainage pipes in a field near the East Miraumont Road. Digging down several feet, a body was discovered. The CWGC were contacted at once, and an examination of the remains was conducted. The soldier was complete with all his kit, rifle, and badges, and more importantly, his aluminium ‘dog tag’; metal ones were standard issue to Canadian soldiers at this point in the war. The tag showed him to be Private J.McArthur of the 31st Bn Canadian Infantry. Records indicated that he had been killed in action on 26th September 1916, and his name was already inscribed on the Vimy Memorial.
Pte McArthur's coffin is carried into ADANAC Cemetery. (©Paul Reed)
John J. McArthur was one of over 8,000 Canadian soldiers to be killed at Courcelette. The day he died, his battalion was attacking German positions near the East Miraumont Road as part of the Battle of Thiepval Ridge. Despite a preliminary bombardment, the attack was a failure. The battalion history recorded;
" Through this screen of dust and smoke the attacking waves moved forward, to emerge into a murderous fire from rifle and machine gun. Here was no dazed and demoralised enemy, crouching amid the ruins of those shattered defences, but a resolute foe sheltered in almost undamaged trenches.. The morale of the enemy was unshaken. The defending forces were composed of moreover, of German Marines, the best fighting material which was available."
Few of those killed in this attack were buried at the time. The ground over which they fought was taken a few weeks later but the whole Courcelette battlefield was swept with shell-fire for many months to come and any bodies left in shell holes or on the ground were obliterated. Like McArthur, most of his comrades who fell on the 26th September 1916 have no known grave and are commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. How many more are still there; in shallow Somme graves?
The Last Post is sounded at ADANAC. (©Paul Reed)
The ceremony was conducted by members of the Canadian Armed Forces, his coffin being carried by six soldiers with a khaki service cap on top bearing the badge of the 31st Bn. In the pouring rain and biting wind a large crowd assembled to pay their respects, including two nephews of John McArthur. Following the Last Post his body was laid to rest and a headstone placed on the grave several days later.
Canadian Soldiers fire a fusilade over McArthur's grave. (©Paul Reed)
The headstone erected by CWGC shortly afterwards. (©Paul Reed)
©Paul Reed 2001-2006