May 22, 2019 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces
The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have identified the partial skeletal remains of Sergeant John Albert Collis, a Canadian soldier of the Second World War, discovered near the village of Verrières, in the commune of Saint-Martin-de-Fontenay, France.
Sergeant Collis enlisted in September 1939, in Brampton, Ontario, with the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment). He died on July 25, 1944, during Operation SPRING, as a member of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Canadian Active Service Force), near the village of Verrières.
Veterans Affairs Canada has notified members of the family and is providing them with ongoing support as final arrangements are made. Sergeant Collis’ personnel file indicated he was first interred in a temporary grave on July 26, 1944. He was later moved to the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery. His remains will be reunited with his grave by his regiment, in the presence of family and Government of Canada representatives, at the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in France, on June 7 at 10 a.m. (Central European Time). This will take place during a ceremony organized by the Government of Canada to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.
The Department of National Defence Casualty Identification Program identifies unknown Canadian service members when their remains are discovered, so that they may be buried with a name, by their unit and in the presence of their family. The program fosters a sense of continuity and identity within the Canadian Armed Forces, and provides an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect upon the experiences of those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“It is our duty to provide a dignified and respectful interment to fallen service members who are recovered and identified. The Canadian troops’ success on the battlefields came at a high cost during the Second World War. Sergeant Collis’ interment is an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect upon those who served during the war, and to never forget their courage. We will remember them.”
The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence
“The Second World War left a legacy of death and destruction. The tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Sergeant John Albert Collis’ during the Battle of Normandy reminds us of the conditions experienced by our soldiers during the fighting. More than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served during the Second World War; over 45,000 gave their lives and many more were wounded. Sergeant Collis will be honoured for his commitment and service to Canada. Lest we forget.”
The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
“The dignified laying to rest of Sergeant John Albert Collis reminds us of the tremendous price that many Canadian soldiers paid during the battles of the Second World War. The legacy of our brave members who helped win the War still resonates in the proud traditions of today’s Army. We honour Sergeant Collis for his service and will forever remember his sacrifice.”
Lieutenant-General Jean-Marc Lanthier, Commander, Canadian Army
It is not possible to confirm the reasons why Sergeant Collis’ remains were not fully retrieved from the battlefield. However, the harsh and inhuman conditions that confronted our soldiers during the Second World War certainly were a contributing factor.
In January 2017, human remains with associated Second World War artefacts were discovered near Verrières, France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was notified, and with the support of French regional authorities, took possession of the remains and artefacts. On March 18, 2019, the remains were officially identified as those of Sergeant John Albert Collis.
Sergeant John Albert Collis was born on October 4, 1915 in Lowville, Ontario. Before the war, he had been part of the non-permanent active militia for 10 years. He enlisted in the Canadian Active Service Force in September 1939, in Brampton, Ontario, with the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment), and was immediately appointed to the rank of Corporal; later, he was transferred to the Irish Regiment of Canada. Promoted to Sergeant in October 1941, he continued training and serving as instructor in various locations across Canada until he left for England in November of 1943. After a short time in the 4th Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit, he was posted to the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Canadian Active Service Force).
The Casualty Identification Program’s Casualty Identification Review Board, which includes participants from the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team and the Canadian Museum of History, confirmed the identity of Sergeant Collis through historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological, odontological, and DNA analysis.
The expertise of the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team was a central element into this positive identification. In fact, military experts were able to do a dental analysis to help with the identification. The Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team is a team of 12 Royal Canadian Dental Corps dental officers and dental technicians with specialized training in the field of forensic dentistry.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive records archive. The Commission operates in excess of 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries.