Ted Usher spent his career cracking cases as a police detective. The Comox Valley retiree still puts his experience and skillset to good use.
Instead of cracking crime cases, he’s now cracking cold cases. More accurately, stone-cold cases.
Usher has spent his free time finding unmarked military graves for the past few years. He ensures these past-forgotten veterans get identified and remembered for their service.
The former army reservist has always been passionate about history, and his family has roots working with Canadian Legion programs. His brother, who lives in the Okanagan, was the first to encourage Usher to get involved in this kind of work.
“He said there really isn’t anybody on Vancouver Island who does this…So I became involved with The Last Post Fund,” Usher told Tarrant Cares.
The Last Post is a branch of Veteran Affairs Canada that strives to ensure that “no Veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial, as well as a military gravestone.”
Veterans can be buried in unmarked graves for many reasons, often financial, and there are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 unmarked military graves in Canada.
Just in the Valley, Ted has already found dozens.
Most recently, he identified the grave of Edwin Clifford Harbottle, a member of the famous WWI “Suicide Battalion.” At just 19 years old, Harbottle was shipped off to fight, along with his brothers, in England and Europe.
After a year of fighting, he was sent to the battle of Passchendaele, one of the First World War’s deadliest battles. On October 27, 1917, he was severely wounded.
Harbottle spent two years in hospitals, undergoing countless operations to save his life and leg from gunshots and shrapnel injuries.
In the end, he survived, married and lived till 51. A charity organization paid to ensure Edwin was buried in the Cumberland Cemetery, leaving his grave without a headstone.
That is until Usher got involved.
After discovering who lay beneath the unmarked grave and uncovering Harbottle’s story, Usher began a campaign to raise funds to restore the gravesite.
Following a letter campaign assisted by the Comox, Courtenay, and Bowser Royal Canadian Legion branches, the community came together and raised enough money for a new headstone to commemorate Harbottle’s life and service.
“Feeling proud this morning. My project of restoring the gravesite & headstone at the Cumberland BC cemetery of a WWI Veteran is now complete after over 18 months of work. Private Edwin Clifford Harbottle now has a proper Veteran’s headstone,” Usher wrote.
That’s another grave down, but Usher has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
“I want to make sure those who were fortunate enough to come back to Canada…that they’re identified so that when people are walking through the cemeteries, they can see these headstones and identify them as someone who was prepared to give their sacrifice – that’s why I do it,” Usher told CHEK News.
If you or anyone you know, has information about an unmarked grave or would like to have one restored in the Valley, Usher wants to hear about it.
“If a family reading the story comes forward and says ‘we would like to have a proper… military marker, I can make an application for that,” he said.
He’s encouraging people to reach out with leads at firstname.lastname@example.org