Published:May 23, 2019
In the hedgerows of Normandy there was blood.
Much of it Canadian during the Allies desperate fight to break out and flush the Nazi scourge from Europe.
On July 25, 1944, Sgt. John Albert Collis lost his life fighting for freedom in Operation Spring — a plan to liberate France’s Verrieres Ridge and adjacent villages, but the German forces were well fortified and the Allies suffered high casualties.
Among the dead was Brampton native Collis.
His skeletal remains were discovered 73 years later just outside of the village of Verrieres, France.
The remains were identified as his on March 18, 2019 through a process of historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological, odontological, and DNA analysis.
The Government of Canada announced the discovery on Wednesday.
He was a member of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry under the Canadian Active Service Force at the time he was killed at age 28.
“It is our duty to provide a dignified and respectful interment to fallen service members who are recovered and identified,” said Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan.
“The Canadian troops’ success on the battlefields came at a high cost during the Second World War. Sergeant Collis’ interment is an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect upon those who served during the war, and to never forget their courage. We will remember them.”
Veteran Affairs Canada notified members of Collis’ family and is providing support for final arrangements.
The soldier’s remains will be interred June 7 at the temporary grave site he was given at the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in France.
The burial will be part of a ceremony held by the Government of Canada to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.
“If you consider France 1944 there were several episodes of extreme movement in which more chaotic conditions would have prevailed,” said University of Ottawa history professor Thomas Boogaart, theorizing on why Collis’ body was not found until now and he was given a temporary grave site at the cemetery in France.
“(Looking at a historical map) provides a clue — the soldier was likely part of (Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery) Monty’s army trying, and failing, to close the Falaise Gap. If they had been successful the war might have ended in 1944. As it was, the German front collapsed and the Allied units advanced all the way to the Rhine before running out of gas. If the unit was on the move a temporary internment might have made sense and records could have been lost in the chaos that ensued,” said Boogaart. “This, however, is just a theory based on two circumstantial pieces of evidence.”
Sergeant Collis was born on in Lowville, Ont. on Oct. 14, 1915 to George Collis and Florence May Collis (nee Cooper) of Milton, Ontario. At the time of his enlistment he was a widower with one daughter.
He was granted authorization to marry Dorothy Ruby Collis (nee Campbell) on Oct. 14, 1939, with whom he had a son.