Lieutenant Francis Henry Hemsley

In 2012, human remains were found in Vendin-le-Vieil, France. The remains were confirmed as those of Lieutenant Francis Henry Hemsley.

Francis (Frank) Henry Hemsley was born 5 August 1880 in Ealing, Middlesex, England. His parents were Alexander and Ellen Hemsley (née Streeten). Francis was one of seven children. In 1906, he married Adina Cresswell Hebden and the two had three children, Doreen, Hugh, and Colwyn. Francis immigrated to Canada in 1911, sailing from Bristol on 8 March 1911. He was joined in Canada by Adina, Doreen, and Hugh in March 1912. Colwyn was born in 1916, shortly before Adina and the children returned to England. Before enlisting, Francis was working as a farmer near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He had previously served as a trooper with the 35th Squadron, 11th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry from 1900 to 1901 during the South African War (1899-1902). He was also a member of the 52nd Prince Albert Volunteers militia regiment, receiving his militia Commission as a lieutenant in December 1915.

On 20 February 1916, Francis joined the 183rd Battalion (Manitoba Beavers) as a lieutenant in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at the age of 35. On 3 October 1916, he sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the S.S. “Saxonia”, arriving in Liverpool on 13 October 1916. After a period of training with the 108th Battalion and the 14th (Manitoba) Reserve Battalion, during which he qualified as a Lewis gun instructor, Lieutenant Hemsley became a member of the 16th Battalion (The Canadian Scottish) on 25 April 1917. He joined the unit in the field in France on 5 May 1917.

Lieutenant Hemsley and the 16th Battalion fought in the Battle of Hill 70, which began on 15 August 1917. The 16th began its assault at 4:25 and captured their objectives, the “Blue Line” and the “Green Line”, on schedule and with limited casualties. Unfortunately, the next day, 16 August, the battalion suffered substantial losses due to a German artillery barrage on the Canadian Corps’ new defensive positions. The 16th Battalion was relieved from their frontline positions by other Canadian troops early on the morning of 17 August. From 15 to 17 August 1917, the 16th Battalion suffered 41 casualties with no known graves in connection with the assault on Hill 70. Lieutenant Hemsley was reported killed in action on 16 August 1917 at the age of 37. He was buried in an isolated grave, but the grave was later lost.

After the war, Lieutenant Hemsley’s name was engraved on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. This memorial commemorates Canadian soldiers who died during the First World War and have no known grave.

On 29 August 2012, skeletal human remains were discovered by a bomb disposal unit clearing ordnance from a construction site in Vendin-le-Vieil, France. Alongside the remains were a few artifacts including fragments of a helmet, gas mask, and webbing. Several buttons clearly marked with “16th Battalion, Canadian Scottish Regiment” were also found.

Through historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological, and DNA analysis, with the assistance of the Canadian Museum of History, the Casualty Identification Review Board was able to confirm the identity of the remains as those of Lieutenant Francis Henry Hemsley in February 2024.

Lieutenant Hemsley will be buried in the summer of 2025 in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Loos British Cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle, France by members of The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s) from Victoria, British Columbia.

For more information on Lieutenant Hemsley, you can view his personnel file on the Library and Archives Canada website.

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