Human remains found in Belgium in 2016 identified as Newfoundland Regiment member

The remains of a 17-year-old soldier were unearthed four years ago in Belgium — and it turns out they are those of a member of the Newfoundland Regiment, who fought in the First World War and died 103 years ago.  

The details of the discovery and identity were announced Tuesday at an event at The Rooms in St. John’s, with the provincial archivist being acknowledged as having played a major role in the process. 

Pte. John Lambert died Aug. 16, 1917. He was born July 10, 1900, in St. John’s, according to officials with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. 

His remains were discovered during an archeological dig near St. Julien, Belgium. There were three other sets of human remains found, but it’s not clear if the others have been identified. 

Lambert lied about his age to fight in war

According to a biography on the federal government’s website, Lambert lied about his age and claimed he was 18 years old when, in fact, he was 16. 

He joined the 2nd Battalion in Scotland, and made his way to France, where he joined the 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment in June 1917. Members served with the 88th Brigade of the 29th Infantry Division of the British Expeditionary Force.

On Aug. 16, 1917, an attack was launched by the Newfoundland Regiment — which would become known as the Battle of Langemarck — with members successfully overtaking the enemy’s trenches and bunkers. 

It was in that attack that Lambert suffered wounds that he died from. Another 26 men were killed in that battle. 

The role N.L.’s provincial archivist played

Lambert’s remains were found alongside a number of artifacts in 2016. Those included a shoulder title of the Newfoundland Regiment, an Inniskilling Fusiliers cap badge, two Hampshire Regiment shoulder titles, general service buttons, British bullets and a few other small items.

DNA samples from the soldier’s descendants made it possible to confirm Lambert’s identity — making it the first time a Newfoundland Regiment soldier has been identified by this process, according to the provincial government. 

Greg Walsh, director of the Provincial Archive at The Rooms, spoke Tuesday on how DNA technology helped identify a Newfoundland Regiment soldier more than a century after his death. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

It was Greg Walsh, the provincial archivist and director of The Rooms’ provincial archives, who “provided vital archival research to locate Private Lambert’s direct descendants,” reads a media release issued by the provincial government. 

“Military records confirmed there were 16 Newfoundland Regiment soldiers who had fought in the vicinity, with no known grave. Walsh, began his year-long search with this list of 16 soldiers and proceeded to find living descendants for 13 of the 16,” reads a statement. 

Walsh combed through many information sources, including vital statistics registers, census records, newspaper records, phone books and online search engines, to find anything that might help with the process. 

Ultimately, it was a combination of historical, genealogical, anthropological, and DNA analysis that helped the Casualty Identification Review Board identify Lambert, according to the government’s website.

Next steps

The Canadian Armed Forces have notified Lambert’s surviving next of kin, and are providing them with ongoing support, according to the government. 

These medals were awarded to Lambert. (Submitted by the Lambert family/Government of Canada)

Lambert, who was born to Richard and Elizabeth Lambert, will be buried at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s New Irish Farm Cemetery in West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, as the “earliest opportunity,” according to the federal government. 

It’s expected that family members, along with representatives from the Canadian, United Kingdom and Belgian governments will attend, as will the Canadian Armed Forces. 

Lambert’s name was memorialized on the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in Bowring Park, which commemorates soldiers from Newfoundland who died during the First World War and have no known grave. 

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