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World War 1: Calgarian killed in action identified after 105 years

Sergeant Richard Musgrave lost his life in 1917, battling for a hill that bore no name but a number.

In mid-August of that year, the Canadian Corps were thrust into action over Hill 70 near Lens, France. They fought from August 15 to 25, with the goal of diverting German troops from the Third Battle of Ypres, better known in Canada as the Battle of Passchendaele.

Sgt. Musgrave was reported missing on the first day of battle, and was presumed killed in action. More than 140 men from his battalion would be killed, and 118 of them missing and never found. In total, more than 10,000 Canadian soldiers would be killed, wounded, or go missing during the 10 days of bloody and taxing warfare.

The Canadian government announced on Wednesday, that after nearly four years of forensic research, including the use of DNA, historical records, genealogical, anthropological, and archaeological research, Sgt. Musgrave had been identified.

His remains were found during a munitions removal in 2017. It’s an activity that’s still ongoing in France to this day, where French authorities are routinely called upon to dispose of ordnance used in WW1.

This was confirmed by the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team, the Canadian Museum of History, and the Casualty Identification Review Board.

“My thoughts today are with the family of Sergeant Musgrave, a Canadian soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War,” said Minister of National Defence, Anita Anand.

“We will forever owe him, and all fallen Canadian soldiers and their families, our deepest gratitude. Lest we forget.”

More than 1,300 Canadian soldiers killed in the Battle of Hill 70 still have no known grave.

A union man who called Calgary home

Sgt. Musgrave was born in Scotland in 1884, although his attestation paper declared him to have been born in 1886.

He moved to Calgary and was working as a Teamster in the city when WW1 broke out. He was a slight man of 5’3″, of fair complexion, and had blue eyes and light brown hair. His enlisted papers recorded him as a Baptist, unmarried, and the sole provider for his mother Rebecca Musgrave.

He enlisted in the 56th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in April of 1915. The Glenbow Museum archives has in their collection photographs of the 56th Battalion marching down 9 Avenue. The families and well-wishers of the soldiers sent them off to train in England.

Sgt. Musgrave achieved his rank in 1917, and was wounded a month later. He received the Military Medal for bravery in July.

He died, aged 32.

“More than 100 years have passed since Sergeant Musgrave was killed during the Battle of Hill 70 and, still, we make it our duty to remember and honour him and his comrades,” said Minister for Veterans Affairs, Lawrence MacAulay.

“Though his name is chiseled into the white stone of the Vimy Memorial, identifying his remains gives his family and his country the opportunity to contemplate his courage and sacrifice in service to Canada.”