It’s about respect.
And for Ottawa historian Norm Christie, that’s all it need ever be — respect for 44 Canadian soldiers, including 10 from southern Alberta, who were inadvertently left in a temporary potato-field grave when the Great War ended.
“If you died for your country, would you just want to be thrown to the side of the road and forgotten?” said Christie.
“They deserve a proper burial in a proper cemetery, not a potato field.”
In just a few weeks, the men, including two soldiers who enlisted in Calgary, will have lain beneath the soil of that Northern France potato field for exactly 99 years.
Some had likely been in France for a matter of weeks when fate determined they would forever remain, victims of the bloody battle of Vimy Ridge — and from the youngest soldier at 19, to the oldest at 43, April 9, 1917 marked their final day as living, breathing souls.
The 44 members of the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion were among 3,598 Canucks who died in that bloody victory, and afterwards, they were among the dead hastily buried in craters and trenches — a proper funeral having to wait until after the war.
And for most Canadian soldiers, it did. But for the 44 men left in mine crater CA40, that day never came.
“We can’t just leave them there,” said Christie, a Great War historian whose research has pinpointed the likely grave of the forgotten men, including L.Cpl. George F. Blaik and Pte. William F. Dickson, who both listed Calgary as their home upon enlistment.
Blaik was born on August 14, 1879, in Huntington, Que., marrying Jessie Goldsmith Blaik before moving to Calgary, where they had two sons, supported by dad’s job as a CPR conductor on the route between Calgary and Medicine Hat.
In 1915, 35-year-old Blaik enlisted with the Lethbridge Highlanders, shipping over to France the next year, where he fought at the Somme and Arras, before dying at Vimy.
Private William Francis Dickson’s link to Calgary isn’t as clear, and the 26-year-old was listed in the University of Manitoba’s Pharmacy School as of 1913, before enlisting as a Calgarian in 1915 — and a previously unlisted “Wm. Dickson” is shown in the 1915 Calgary directory.
CA40 was supposed to be exhumed and its occupants moved to an official cemetery at Nine Elms following the war, as crews followed official burial records filed by Canadian officials on the front line.
CA40 was known and listed, but Christie discovered the re-interment never actually happened, and somehow, the crater containing the 44 men — including Victoria Cross recipient Pte. William Johnstone Milne, of Moose Jaw, Sask.. — was overlooked.
And now the historian is determined to find them.
Christie has meticulously pored through maps, photographs and documents to determine where crater CA40 was, and now, he’s in the midst of a fundraising campaign called Help Recover Our Vimy Heroes, in a bid to raise $110,000 to conclude the search.
With $21,000 raised so far via the fundrazr.com/campaigns/4zeCb website, Christie plans to conduct electronic analysis of the battlefield, where the crater is believed to be — and he is confident the missing 44 men will be right there, as predicted.
“Where else can they be?” said Christie.
Having to conduct a personal campaign to raise the money does irk the prominent Great War historian, especially given the immense support offered by the Australian government during a similar forgotten grave find in Fromelles, France.
In that case, the Australian and British governments ultimately funded an entire new military cemetery for 250 British and Australian soldiers who died in 1916.
Christie, who once worked for the Commonwealth War Graves commission, only hopes Canada will step up with a similar commemorative effort, if and when the 44 Canadian soldiers are found.
“These men died fighting for Canada. It would be shameful if we just walked away.”
Article taken from the Calgary Sun