World War One researchers trying to solve 102-year-old mystery of Ballymena soldier who fought for Canada

A pair of researchers are trying to solve a 102-year-old puzzle as to where a Ballymena-born soldier who served Canada during World War One is laid to rest.

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 6:38 pm
Updated Friday, 12th November 2021, 11:05 am
Diana Beaupré and Adrian Watkinson at the grave of Henry Thomas Hobbs which they located in Surrey
Diana Beaupré and Adrian Watkinson at the grave of Henry Thomas Hobbs which they located in Surrey

The search for Private Samuel McNeice’s grave is part of a 12-year study of Canadian war graves in the UK by Diana Beaupré and Adrian Watkinson who live in Canterbury in England.

Diana, who is half French-Canadian, said: “After 102 years, his final resting place needs to be found so that his service to king and country can finally be remembered on the anniversary of his death and every year thereafter.”

She added: “There are 3902 WWI Canadians commemorated across the UK. Since 2007, we have located, visited, profiled and photographed 3900 of these.

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“Over the last 12 years of research, we have also identified the final resting place of over 20 Canadian servicemen who died during World War One and had no marker to commemorate them. We have been left with just two unknowns – Private McNeice and Private John Smith, who is buried somewhere in London.”

Private McNeice enlisted on September 2, 1915 at Brandon in Manitoba, Canada.

Samuel Jnr appears on the 1901 Census along with his wife Maggie (née Thompson) and daughter Isabella (aged two months). Subsequently, they had two further daughters, Ellen (1906) and Margaret (1906). They emigrated to Canada in 1911.

Prior to volunteering, Samuel Jnr listed his occupation as a fireman. He also attested to his religion being Presbyterian.

He served with the 79th Battalion Canadian Infantry and subsequently the 11th Reserve Battalion Canadian

Infantry, though his army service was blighted by serious illness and he was discharged on medical grounds in 1918.

His sister Ellen Barr (née McNeice) registered his death on June 26, 1919 at Antrim Road at Ballymena.

His death was recorded in the Ballymena Observer newspaper but with no mention as to where he was to be interred.

Diana, who has been working along with a WWI researcher in NI, Philip Bell, said: “It is our ambition to have a headstone commemorating Samuel on the site of his burial and ultimately, the British Legion will be able to include him in their annual Remembrance Day services.”

Find out more about the Far From Home project at www.canadianukgravesww1.co.uk

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