In Alvanley, England, a lone Canadian soldier from Woodnorth near Virden is buried among the graves in a rural church yard.
Private Wilfred Laurier Leech, no doubt named after the turn of the century Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, died while serving in the 5th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry at the age of 19 in June 1917.
He was born in Virden to William and Susan Leech. His paperwork indicates that he worked as a farmer before enlisting in the armed forces.
A man from nearby Liverpool, Eric Smith, noticed that the sign outside of St. John’s church in Alvanley has an additional sign marking that it is the location of Commonwealth War Graves.
Further inspection revealed that the sign was half-right — there was a war grave, but only a single one.
Smith told the Sun over the phone that Leech’s records contain a bit of a mystery. They say he died of diphtheria in Aldershot, approximately 350 kilometres away from where he is buried.
Church records indicate that he died on June 24, 1917 and was buried four days later. Smith believes this shows that he is more likely to have died in the area near the church.
"In general, people were not repatriated, they were buried where they fell," Smith said. "I couldn’t figure out why a Canadian soldier could end up here. He’d obviously been in France, because his service records show that."
Smith is now looking for the official death certificate, which he hopes will shed some light on the situation. He said he has already been in touch with a museum in Virden, which did not have any records of Leech.
Correspondence between Smith and the Canadian War Museum revealed that Leech was punished early in the war for a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the hand, likely in hopes of avoiding being sent into combat.
As punishment, Leech was subject to three months of "field punishment No. 1," which was what the British Army and its counterparts in other countries in the British Empire used to replace flogging after it was abolished.
For up to two hours a day, soldiers subject to field punishment No. 1 had their arms handcuffed behind them to a fixed object like a fence post and forced to stand there for up to two hours a day.
According to the Canadian War Museum website, at one point soldiers had their legs bound together and their arms stretched apart, leading to the punishment being nicknamed "crucifixion" by soldiers. The punishment was abolished in 1923 after the end of the war.
As part of his investigation, Smith hopes that he can find any members of Leech’s family.
"I think it would be quite fascinating if relatives were found," Smith said. "There must be."
The Englishman feels for the fallen soldier, dying away from home and likely never receiving any visitors to his grave.
"Nobody at the church can recall a foreign visitor," he said. "It’d be rather nice if somebody came. I’d pick them up from the airport and take them (there)."
He said that he’s a regular visitor to Canada and visits a friend in Winnipeg twice times a year. On his next trip to Manitoba, Smith is going to take a trip out to Westman to see what he can find out about where Leech comes from.
If anyone has information on Leech or his family, please reach out to Smith by email at email@example.com.
» Twitter: @ColinSlark