The Unknown Soldier: Approximately 20,000 men who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and in the Newfoundland Regiment have no known graves. Their names are recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Belgium, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, or the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in France. They are also commemorated by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which adorns the base of the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The tomb, which was unveiled in 2000, contains the remains of a Canadian soldier who had initially been buried in a cemetery near Vimy Ridge, the site of Canada's most iconic battle. His identity will never be known. The tomb is a national symbol of the sacrifices of individuals and the grief of families in all wars.
Many of the men with no known graves from the First World War were originally declared to be “missing,” which gave families hope that their loved ones might be found alive in hospitals or prisoner-of-war camps. In most cases, these hopes were not fulfilled. Some bodies could not be identified, while others were swallowed by battlefields that had been turned into quagmires by rain and artillery. When the remains of First World War soldiers are found today, attempts are made to identify the men from fragments of uniforms and equipment, and archival documents. The men are then buried in an appropriate cemetery with full honours. It is common to see headstones in First World War cemeteries that note only unit affiliations or some simple inscription about the unknown man buried beneath. Such memorials remind us of the families who never had the small comfort of knowing how their loved ones died or whether they had been properly buried.