The Attack on the Arleux Loop, Casualty Identification

Sergeant James Alexander Milne

Church Parade 10th Bn. Abeele, Belgium, May 1916
Church parade (10th Infantry Battalion)
Abeele, Belgium, May 1916 Credit: Canada.
Dept. of National Defence/Library and
Archives Canada/PA-000032 Photographer:
Knobel, Henry Edward (MIKAN no. 3405994)

James Alexander Milne was born on 10 February 1883, at Gellybrands, Cookney, Kincardineshire, Scotland. Raised by his maternal grandmother Eliza Valentine (née Smith, widowed Milne), he immigrated to Canada between 1905 and 1911. He was unmarried and worked as a labourer in Calgary before enlisting in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) on 27 January 1915 with the 50th Battalion C.E.F.

At enlistment, he declared on his attestation papers that his birthplace was Stonehaven and his birth year 1886. It is impossible to know why he provided this information although Stonehaven was five miles southeast of Cookney and was the larger settlement.

Tents of the 10th Bn. May 1916
Tents of the 10th Infantry Battalion, Abeele, Belgium,
May 1916 Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/
Library and Archives Canada/PA-000032 Photographer:
Knobel, Henry Edward (MIKAN no. 3405993)

The 50th Battalion departed Camp Valcartier for England on 27 October 1915 arriving at Bramshott Military Camp on 6 November 1915. On 3 February 1916 Private Milne and many others of the 50th Battalion transferred to the 9th Reserve Battalion C.E.F. for further training. On 15 March 1916, he transferred to the 10th Battalion C.E.F a battalion of the 1st Canadian Division, 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade in the Canadian Corps serving in France and Belgium.

Taken on strength of the 10th Battalion on 19 March 1916 he was with the battalion when it returned to the trenches not far from Ypres. He was present for the German assault at Mount Sorrel on 2 June 1916 where the 10th Battalion helped in preventing the Germans from breaking through the line.

Appointed Lance Corporal on 12 June following Mount Sorrel he then survived the heavy fighting on the Somme from August to October 1916. Milne likely exhibited leadership abilities since he was promoted to Corporal on 14 February 1917 on the same day the battalion was inspected by Field Marshal Haig.

He then participated in the attack on Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917 and that same day promoted to the rank of Sergeant while in the field. His promotion was made substantive 24 April 1917.

He then participated in the assault on Arleux-en-Gohelle, 28 April 1917 where he was killed and reported missing.

Location of discovery
Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Following the war, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission engraved his name on the Vimy Memorial with the names of other soldiers who had no known grave.

On 5 May 2013, just over 96 years after the death of Sergeant Milne, an archaeology team uncovered human remains while conducting mandatory excavation for the building of a new housing estate in Arleux-en-Gohelle, France.

Artefacts recovered with the remains suggested they were of a Canadian soldier from the 10th Infantry Battalion during the First World War. There were numerous identifying buttons, buckles as well as a pair of boots and a corroded identification disc.

Sergeant Milne’s identification disc
Identification disc upon discovery
Sergeant Milne’s identification disc
Identification disc once treated by
the Canadian Conservation Institute

The Canadian Conservation Institute treated and cleaned the identification disc to reveal the inscriptions. On the bottom of the disc “10 BN” was clearly legible. The numbers “434”, followed by a corroded blank space of about one character, followed by “56” indicated a service number. In the upper right of the disc were the letters “LNE”. The only service number of those missing that started with “434” and ended with “56” was that of Sergeant James Alexander Milne. He was also the only one of the missing with the letter combination “LNE” in his name.

Cap badge of the 10th Battalion CEF
A cap badge from the 10th Canadian Infantry
Battalion, found with Sergeant Milne’s
remains. At the centre of the badge is an
image of a beaver, with the title “10th
Canadians” underneath it. The beaver
and title are surrounded by a wreath of
maple leafs that connect with an image of
the Tudor Crown at the top of the badge.
Collar badges of the 10th Battalion CEF
Two collar badges from the 10th Canadian
Infantry Battalion, discovered with
Sergeant Milne’s remains

Through historical, genealogical, anthropological and archaeological analysis, with the assistance of the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team, the Canadian Museum of History and, the Canadian Conservation Institute, the Casualty Identification Review Board was able to confirm the identity of the remains as Sergeant James Alexander Milne in December 2016.

Sergeant Milne was buried on 25 August 2017 in Orchard Dump Cemetery in Arleux-en-Gohelle, France by members of The Calgary Highlanders from Calgary, Alberta. Attending the burial were representatives of the Government of Canada, the local French government and the Canadian Armed Forces.

For further information on Sergeant Milne, you can view his personnel file on the Library and Archives Canada website.