Discovering Pvt. Kenneth Donald Duncanson
No one could have prepared me for the shocking revelation that I received on a lovely spring day in early May 2016. The news launched me on a journey of discovery, commemoration and remembrance. The Casualty Identification Program of the Department of National Defence (DND) contacted me about the discovery in Belgium of the remains of a Canadian soldier from the Second World War. He was identified as Private Kenneth Donald Duncanson, my mother’s first cousin.
I immediately recalled images of Kenneth’s home in Dutton, Ont., and his name engraved on the family tombstone with his parents, my grandparents and great-grandparents. Through a second cousin in Dutton, I was given Kenneth’s military medals and photos of him in uniform in England. I inherited Kenneth’s wedding photo from my mother. These are special reminders of this man I never met but with whom I have a deep connection.
Kenneth grew up in Dutton, where his father, Dan, was raised. Kenneth married Lillian Hagerty on October 14, 1939, at age 24. In early January 1940, they opened K. and L. Grocery, a small store on Dutton’s Main Street. Kenneth continued to work for the Strathcona Creamery until he enlisted on August 24, 1942, five days after the Dieppe Raid. After a year of training in Ontario, he went to England for further training. In March 1944, he was assigned to the Algonquin Regiment and landed in Normandy on July 22, at Courseulles.
Kenneth was killed on September 14, 1944, during an unsuccessful attempt by the regiment to establish a bridgehead across the Leopold and Dérivation de la Lys canals at Molentje, Belgium. He was one of eight men whose bodies were not recovered from the battlefield during the chaos of the withdrawal. The location of his remains was unknown until November 11, 2014, when a metal detector hobbyist discovered some military artifacts and human remains in a farm field. On April 5, 2016, the Raakvlak archaeological team from Bruges, assisted by the Directorate of History and Heritage, DND, recovered Kenneth’s remains.