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Webmatters : Funeral of Thomas Lawless at La Chaudière Military Cemetery, Vimy

La Chaudière

Thomas Lawless

Thomas Lawless

Thomas Lawless will lie beside Herbert Peterson

Thomas Lawless was born in Santry, Dublin on 11th April 1889 to James and Roseanna (née Gaffney).

At the age of twenty he emigrated to Canada with his brother Matthew working as a farmhand near Gleichen in Alberta.

Although Matthew joined up in 1915 he tried to discourage Thomas from doing the same. Nevertheless Thomas did so and was eventually posted to the 49th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Alberta Regiment).

On the night of the 8/9th June 1917 his unit formed part of a massive raid against the German lines south of the village of Avion. The large scale raid was a first of its kind for the Canadians and was deemed a success despite the battalion losing 36 soldiers killed.

Sixteen of the casualties were reported as missing : Private Thomas Lawless 183425 amongst them.


Identifying the body

Eighty six years later in October 2003 two bodies were unearthed near Avion by construction works.

Buttons and shreds of uniform identified them as Canadian infantrymen from the Edmonton-based 49th Battalion. DNA testing finally identified one of the soldiers as Private Herbert Peterson and he was buried in La Chaudière in April 2007.

The identity of the second body remained a mystery until 10th January 2011 when it was finally identified as being that of Thomas Lawless.

Working with Dr Nelson at the University of Western Ontario the Canadian forensic artist Christian Cardell Corbet (Founder of the Canadian Portrait Academy) recreated a likeness of the unknown soldier from a model of the skull.

In December 2010, scientists at the UWO used isotope signatures from the soldier’s teeth to retrace his geographical movements. It sounds like science fiction but it is now possible to state from these isotopes that the soldier had been born in the 1890s in Ireland, and had then moved to southern Alberta.

Only one of the missing soldiers from the raid matched this profile and further research led to the positive identification being made.

At molecular levels, the teeth preserve a permanent record of the place in which a person was born and spent the first two years of life. Oxygen signatures derived from drinking water and preserved in those teeth vary across the globe, with different values attained and based on a number of factors. As our individual teeth grow at different moments during our lives they record different points on our life’s time scale.

And so finally, on a wonderfully sunny morning and in the shadow of the Vimy memorial Thomas Lawless was laid to rest with full military honours alongside the grave of his companion in arms Herbert Peterson.

Thomas's niece Mena with her daughter

Thomas’s niece Mena with her daughter

Thomas’s niece Mena made the journey from Ireland with her daughter and other members of the family coming from Canada.

I have come to bury my father’s brother whom I never knew. He died ten years before I was born but I heard a lot about him. They have always said I look a lot like him.

The bearer party was provided by the Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) who have preserved the traditions of the 49th Battalion.

His gravestone carries the inscription:

From Santry, Ireland
Ar dheis de go raibh a anam dhilis


Some photos from funeral

Vimy guides The firing party The coffin arrives at La Chaudière Reversed arms Approaching the cemetery The Loyal Edmonton Regiment The bearer party La Chaudière Military Cemetery During the funeral service The commital service The three services were represented Three volleys The Last Post The Flowers of the Forest Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Lt Podiluk commanding the funeral party Folding the flag Offering the flag The casket Family members Family mementoes

Click on the thumbnail for a larger version


Members of the Lawless family from Ireland and Canada

Members of the family from Ireland and Canada


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