The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have identified Lieutenant John Gordon Kavanagh, a Canadian soldier of the Second World War who was buried as an unknown soldier in 1947 in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s section of the Steenderen General Cemetery in the Netherlands.
Lieutenant John Gordon Kavanagh was born on October 20, 1921, in Toronto. He joined the Non-Permanent Active Militia in September 1939, and joined The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (QOR of C) as a Private on June 13, 1940, in Toronto. By August 1944, he had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Lieutenant Kavanagh joined The QOR of C in northwest Europe in March 1945 and was killed in action on April 5, 1945, during an advance towards Pipelure, Netherlands.
The QOR of C have notified surviving next of kin of Lieutenant Kavanagh’s identification and have provided the family with ongoing support. A headstone rededication ceremony will take place at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s section of the Steenderen General Cemetery in Steenderen, Netherlands, in the spring of 2020.
The Canadian Armed Forces Casualty Identification Program, within the Directorate of History and Heritage, identifies unknown Canadian service members when their remains are recovered. The program also identifies service members previously buried as unknown soldiers when there is significant historical and archival evidence to confirm the identification. In this instance, the previously unknown soldier will receive a new headstone with his name and will be officially identified and recognized by the Canadian Armed Forces. The program fosters a sense of continuity and identity within the Canadian Armed Forces, and provides an opportunity for the family, the unit of the fallen soldier, and all Canadians to reflect upon the experiences of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“Those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that Canadians enjoy today deserve to be remembered by all Canadians. The successful identification of Lieutenant John Gordon Kavanagh offers all of us an opportunity to remember those who served during the Second World War. To the family of Lieutenant Kavanagh, Canada will always remember the contribution you loved one made to Canadians. Lest we forget.”
– The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence
“The identification of Lieutenant John Gordon Kavanagh demonstrates that the service of our members is never forgotten. The legacy of those brave Canadians who battled tremendous odds to liberate the Netherlands lives on as we honour Lieutenant Kavanagh for his service to Canada. We will forever remember his ultimate sacrifice.”
– Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, Commander Canadian Army
It is not possible to confirm why Lieutenant Kavanagh’s remains were not recovered after his death. He was commemorated on the Groesbeek Memorial to the missing.
In May 2017, external researchers submitted a report to the Directorate of History and Heritage proposing the identity of the soldier interred in an unknown grave at Steenderen General Cemetery but the recommendation was not supported due to insufficient evidence. In May 2019, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission received a report regarding the same grave from external researchers who had located documents in the local archives in Steenderen, Netherlands. This information along with other facts in the case helped to confirm that the occupant of the grave was a Canadian. In November 2019, years of extensive research by various researchers culminated in the identification of Lieutenant Kavanagh.
The Casualty Identification Program’s Casualty Identification Review Board, which includes researchers from the Directorate of History and Heritage, and representatives from the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team, the Canadian Museum of History, and Commonwealth War Graves Commission, confirmed the identity of Lieutenant Kavanagh through extensive historical research using archival sources including war diaries, Circumstances of Death Registers, and Concentration and Exhumation Reports. As was the case with Lieutenant Kavanagh, the program relies purely on historical documents and research to identify Canadian war dead laid to rest as unknown soldiers.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. Using an extensive archive, the Commission works with their partners to recover, investigate, and identify those with no known grave to give them the dignity of burial and the commemoration they deserve.