Sergeant Arthur Davidson Melvin

In June 2019, a research report was received suggesting that an unknown grave at Bois-Carre British Cemetery, in Thélus, France, could be identified. The Canadian Armed Forces have confirmed that the grave in question is that of Sergeant Arthur Melvin.

Arthur Davidson Melvin was born on 3 June 1887 in Udny, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His mother was Helen “Nellie” Melvin (née Wallace), and his father was James Melvin. Arthur lived with his parents and nine siblings in Whiteashes, Aberdeenshire, Scotland until he immigrated to Canada sometime after 1901. Arthur’s father passed away in 1890 so his mother was listed as his next-of-kin. Prior to enlisting, Arthur worked as a pipefitter.

On 18 May 1915, Arthur Davidson Melvin enlisted with the 56th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Calgary, Alberta. On 20 March 1916, Melvin sailed for England onboard the SS Baltic arriving on 11 April. On 28 June 1916 after training in England, Melvin was transferred to the 31st Infantry Battalion, CEF and sent to France. On 22 September 1916, Melvin was promoted to the rank of corporal, then sergeant on 1 October 1916.

In the spring of 1917, the British planned a major offensive near Arras, France to help alleviate pressure on the French military fighting further south near the Aisne as part of the Nivelle offensive. During the Battle of Arras, the Canadian Corps was tasked with taking the high ground in the area known as Vimy Ridge, regaining control of the Douai Plain in the process, and then pushing forward to Cambrai. On 9 April 1917, all four divisions of the Canadian Corps participated in the attack against the defending German 6th Army. Fighting as part of the 6th Brigade of the 2nd Canadian Division, the 31st Infantry Battalion, CEF was to launch its attack from the Red Line position, already won by the 4th and 5th Brigades, to take the next objective known as the Blue Line. Advancing from just north of the village of Thélus, the 31st Battalion fought their way through the destroyed village, facing heavy resistance. A Company captured the western part of the village by 10:00 am, allowing B Company to pass through their position and continue clearing to the center of the village. C Company, of which Sergeant Melvin was a member, assisted by men of the 28th Infantry Battalion, CEF, were clearing the eastern end of the village when they came under intense fire. While D Company was able to push their way forward and reach the Blue Line, scattered fighting across the village continued throughout the day. While the 31st Battalion was able to clear and hold Thélus, the day had been costly: 15 members of the battalion were killed, 69 were wounded, and 6 were missing, including Sergeant Arthur Davidson Melvin. He was later presumed killed on 9 April 1917 at the age of 29.

After the war, Sergeant Arthur Davidson Melvin’s name was engraved on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, erected in memory of the Canadian soldiers killed in France during the First World War and who have no known grave.

In June 2019, the Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH) received a report from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission detailing the potential identification of Grave 1, Row C, Plot 2, in the Bois-Carre British Cemetery in Thélus, France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission had received a report from an independent researcher raising the possibility that this grave was that of Sergeant Arthur Davidson Melvin. Extensive research undertaken by both the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the DHH also concluded that this grave could only be that of Sergeant Melvin. No other candidate matched the details of the partial identification. Historical research was conducted using numerous archival sources, including War Diaries, Service Records, Casualty Registers, and grave Exhumation and Concentration reports.

In October 2021, the Casualty Identification Program’s Review Board confirmed the identification of Sergeant Arthur Davidson Melvin of the 31st Infantry Battalion, CEF. The Casualty Identification Program’s Review Board is made up of members from the DHH, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team, and the Canadian Museum of History.

A headstone rededication ceremony will take place at the earliest opportunity in France at the Bois-Carre British Cemetery in Thélus, France, managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

For more information on Sergeant Arthur Davidson Melvin, you can consult his personnel file held by Library and Archives Canada.

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