Questions and Answers

What is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a special structure called a sarcophagus. This sarcophagus was built at the front of Canada's National War Memorial in Ottawa to contain the remains of an unknown Canadian soldier who died in France sometime during the First World War (1914-1918).

How was the ceremony conducted?

This soldier was brought back to Canada by the Canadian Forces May 25, 2000. The soldier's remains laid in state at the Parliament Buildings for three days; then, following a solemn ceremony, the casket was buried in the sarcophagus at the National War Memorial.

Why is the soldier unknown?

In war, the devastation caused is terrible, both to inanimate objects and living beings. When soldiers are killed, their remains may be badly damaged or even completely destroyed. Although soldiers wear identity tags to assist in their identification, the destruction caused by exploding shells and other war influences can result in the identity tags no longer being with a soldier's remains.

This problem was particularly common during the First World War, where battles were fought and refought on exactly the same locations. When the war was over, a great effort was made to find and identify the remains of those killed on the battlefields. Inevitably, many could only be identified by indicators such as buttons or badges. Those identified only as Canadians were buried under a gravestone stating "A Canadian Soldier of the Great War - Known Unto God." Many were not found at all. Of the more than 66,000 Canadians who died in the First World War, almost 20,000 have no identifiable grave. Of the nearly 117,000 Canadians who have died in all wars since the birth of our country, a total of 28,000 have no known grave.

What is known about the soldier?

Carefully kept records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the organization that looks after the graves and memorials commemorating the one and three quarter million men and women of the navies, armies, air forces and merchant navies of the British Commonwealth countries who died in the First and Second World Wars, show that the soldier was a Canadian. We also know that he died in France in the First World War.

The Canadian Government made a special request to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to select one grave from among the 1,603 unknown Canadians whose graves are located in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge, a famous First World War battle site where Canadian troops fought as a combined force for the first time. Canadians served in that part of France for much of the war, and in particular for most of the period from the fall of 1916 to the spring of 1918. Many of the military cemeteries in the area reflect that reality, and contain unidentified soldiers' remains from many of the battles which occurred over that time. Therefore it's not known for sure if the soldier died in the battle at Vimy Ridge. We do not know his age, or the unit he fought with, or the date of his death; no one does.

Why was the Tomb created?

Veterans - the survivors of the wars - made it known that they were anxious to see a Tomb built because they felt that new generations of Canadians should have the causes and consequences of war brought home to them. The Government of Canada agreed, and established the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to remind all Canadians of the human cost of our country's commitment to the cause of peace and freedom in the past, in the present, and in the future.

When and where were the remains exhumed?

Remains were exhumed on Tuesday morning 16 May 2000 from Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, Plot 8, Row E, Grave 7.

What's the significance of Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez?

The cemetery was established by British troops in March 1916 then used until August 1917 largely by the Canadian Corps and the UK's 47th (London) Division. It was then used sparingly until September 1918 and after the Armistice was greatly enlarged by the concentration of over 7,000 graves from battlefields around Arras and other burial grounds located in the French Administrative Regions of Nord and Pas-de-Calais. "Cabaret-Rouge" refers to a house located approximately one kilometre south of Souchez. In turn this name was given to a communications trench which ended just east of the cemetery location. The cemetery is approximately 3.5 km north of Arras, just west of the Vimy Memorial.

There are approximately 8,000 burials in this cemetery amongst which are 325 identified and 425 unidentified Canadians.

Was a complete set of remains recovered?

Yes, bearing in mind that 80 plus years have passed since the death of the casualty.

Is anything known about the remains of this particular soldier?

No. The Commission took extra care in its research prior to exhumation to involve only those graves where nothing was known about the casualty.

Why was Cabaret-Rouge Cemetery chosen?

Canada (Veterans Affairs) asked the Commission to specially consider the Vimy area when investigating suitable remains for repatriation. The Vimy area was defined as a strip of land approximately 25 km in length running from Loos-en-Gohelle in the north and Neuville-Vitasse in the south, an area of concentrated Canadian achievement. Cabaret-Rouge met the criteria and offered a group of unknown Canadian casualties which gave an improved chance of finding remains.

Is there anything now marking the original burial site?

A marker, resembling the other Commission headstones in the cemetery, sits on the now empty grave. It is inscribed as follows:

French grave site of the Unknown Soldier

ANCIENNE SÉPULTURE D'UN
SOLDAT CANADIEN INCONNU
MORT AU COURS DE LA
PREMIÈRE GUERRE MONDIALE.
IL A ÉTÉ EXHUMÉ
LE 25 MAI 2000
ET IL REPOSE MAINTENANT AU
MONUMENTCOMMÉMORATIF
DE GUERRE DU CANADA
À OTTAWA

THE FORMER GRAVE OF AN
UNKNOWN CANADIAN SOLDIER
OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR.
HIS REMAINS WERE REMOVED
ON 25 MAY 2000 AND NOW
LIE INTERRED AT THE
NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL
IN OTTAWA CANADA.

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