Wednesday, October 12, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Dutton's Own Pte. Duncanson Update

 MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND
     The final chapter in the story of Pte. Kenneth Donald Duncanson, the Dunwich native whose remains were missing for over seventy years, finally came to a close on September 14. On that sunny day in the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery outside Bruges, Belgium, he was laid to rest while his family looked on. The ceremony was conducted by his unit, the Algonquin Regiment, who conducted the ceremony with full military honours. Amazingly, it was exactly seventy-two years to the day since his death, during an attempt by the Algonquins to establish a bridgehead of the Dérivation de la Lys and the Leopold Canal. For further details on his early life, death, and the discovery of his remains, please revisit my earlier post:

Lieutenant Colonel Ken McClure, Commanding Officer of The Algonquin Regiment, hands the Canadian Flag to Judith Thomas, a second cousin of Private Kenneth Duncanson. MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND

     Earlier this fall, I was fortunate enough to meet one of the Department of National Defense Casualty Identification Program employees, who is a colleague of mine at the Bytown Museum. She worked on Pte. Duncanson's case and actually held his wedding ring and other personal effects found with him after they were sent back to Canada, and told me that one of the main identifiers of the body was a bracelet that he had been wearing at the time of his death. A gift from his wife, Lillian, it was inscribed with his name and information because she feared that the traditional paper identifiers issued by the army would be insufficient for him to be recognized if the unthinkable were to happen. Thus, although she passed away before having closure to her husband's death, she was one of the key factors in finally laying Pte. Duncanson to rest. My colleague also told me that the entire Program is extremely impressed with the response to this story they've received from Dunwich residents, and that they have never before experienced a commemoration of this magnitude for an identified war casualty. This news, of course, did not surprise me in the slightest, since I have yet to observe a locale more proud of its history than ours. 
“We are grateful for the dedication and support of our international partners who made today’s events possible. Private Duncanson’s funeral provides an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect upon the experiences of those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We will always remember them.”
Harjit S. Sajjan, Defence Minister
“We pay tribute to Private Duncanson and his family, who gave so much to this country, as we express our gratitude to serving members and former members of our Canadian Armed Forces, who have made possible our continued enjoyment of peace and liberty. We will honour them always.”
Kent Hehr, Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of National Defence
“Regardless of the 72 years which have passed since Private Duncanson’s death, it is gratifying to finally be able to give him the dignity and respect of a military burial in a Commonwealth cemetery. His personal sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
Brigadier-General (Ret.) David Kettle, Secretary General, the Canadian Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Quick Facts
  • Private Duncanson was born in Wallacetown, Ontario, on June 7, 1915. He married in 1939 and lived in Dutton, Ontario. He enlisted in the Canadian Army on August 24, 1942, and joined The Algonquin Regiment (of North Bay and Timmins, Ontario) in April 1944.
  • He was killed on September 14, 1944, during an attempt by The Algonquin Regiment to establish a bridgehead crossing of the Dérivation de la Lys (canal) and the Leopold Canal, at the hamlet of Molentje, now in the municipality of Damme, Belgium. This was part of the preliminary battles leading up to the Battle of the Scheldt.
  • Private Duncanson’s remains were discovered in a farmer’s field in November 2014 but not recovered by Belgian authorities until April 2016, with DND assisting.
  • His identification resulted from a combination of historical context, anthropological analysis, artefact evidence, and dental records. The identification was made by DND’s Casualty Identification Program, with the assistance of the Royal Canadian Dental Corps and the Canadian Museum of History.
  • Veterans Affairs Canada provided support to the family members of Private Duncanson and coordinated their participation in the funeral.
  • Adegem Canadian War Cemetery already contains the graves of 67 soldiers from The Algonquin Regiment. Most of the 848 Canadians buried at this cemetery died in the fall of 1944 during the Liberation of Belgium and the Battle of the Scheldt. A number of Canadian airmen who died in action elsewhere are also interred there, as are a number of British and Polish soldiers. There are also two French burials.
     Many thanks to the Government of Canada for the news release describing the burial ceremony, Allister Cameron for the video link, and Angela Bobier for passing it along to me. Below, you'll find the video coverage of the ceremony courtesy of Allister.

Thanks for reading,
     Delany Leitch (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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