Last January, Fort Saskatchewan resident Gary Edmundson received an email that made his jaw drop.
The message, from the British Ministry of Defence, had made its way through a chain of relatives before landing in Gary’s inbox. Gary, who has a keen interest in military history, was stunned by what he read: the remains of a distant cousin he didn’t know had been unearthed on a former World War I battleground in Belgium.
The cousin was British soldier Thomas Telford Edmundson, just 20 years old when he died in an artillery barrage near the Belgian town of Zonnebeke on April 26, 1915.
The email also contained a family tree showing Thomas’ lineage, as well as information about a planned military reburial organized by the British Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC).
“We were asked if we could attend a ceremony where Thomas would be buried by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the Perth Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium very close to where he fell,” Gary said.
Thomas was killed seven days after going into battle, his body left in a field grave in German territory, in ground later pummeled by shelling. The grave was lost for nearly 100 years, discovered only when construction work began in the area in 2014. A brass shoulder badge found in the grave identified the fallen soldier as a member of the Durham Light Infantry, a clue that eventually led investigators to determine the remains belonged to Thomas.
“They knew that only eight people from that unit had been killed,” Gary said. “They were able to contact relatives of those eight names in England who would have had somebody in the Durham Light Infantry.”
Three years after Thomas’ grave was uncovered, DNA taken from of one Gary’s relatives in England was matched to the remains.
Since January, Gary has learned some details about his distant cousin’s life. Thomas, a second cousin to Gary’s grandfather, lived two streets away from the Sunderland, UK, house that was Gary’s home before he emigrated to Canada in 1966. Thomas had also attended the church where Gary went to Sunday school as a boy.
In March, Gary and his partner Marianne flew to Belgium for Thomas’s military reburial. Gary brought along a wreath provided by the Fort Saskatchewan Royal Canadian Legion to lay at Thomas’ grave. About 100 people, including Gary’s two brothers and about a dozen other relatives, attended the service, where Gary had the chance to reconnect with the family members he hadn’t seen in decades.
“I think a lot of us were just very happy to be there for Thomas knowing what we did now about the story,” Gary said. “It just really had a feeling of togetherness and just appreciation for the amount of effort that the JCCC and the Commonwealth War Graves people want to put into these things. You know, to really give these fellows a send-off, even 103 years after he'd passed away.”
A cousin of Gary’s chose the inscription that went on Thomas’ gravestone: I once was lost but now am found... and grace will lead me home.
View the embedded image gallery online at: