The Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) identified First World War Soldier earlier this week, nearly 100 years after he was killed, as Private Reginald Joseph Winfield Johnston of Fairford, Manitoba.
Private Johnston was born in Springfield, MB on Aug. 10, 1895. He was raised in Fairford, MB and was a homesteader. On Jan. 19, 1916, at the age of 20, Private Johnston enlisted in Winnipeg. He served in the 16 Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, a unit perpetuated by The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s) of Victoria, BC.
Private Johnston was killed at the age of 22 on either the 15th or 16th of Aug., 1917, while fighting in the Battle of Hill 70. The Battle of Hill 70 was the first major action fought by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander in the First World War. Private Johnston was one of approximately 2100 Canadians who gave their lives in this battle.
“As we prepare to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Hill 70, we pay tribute to Private Johnston as one of over 2000 brave Canadians who gave their lives in that 10-day engagement to wear down the enemy and change the direction of the war. Their courage will not be forgotten,” stated Harjit Sajjan, Minister of Defence.
On Aug. 2, 2011, Private Johnston’s body, with associated First World War artifacts, were discovered during a munitions clearing process in advance of a construction project near the village of Vendin-le-Vieil, France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) was notified, and with the support of French regional authorities, took possession of the remains and artifacts, transporting them to a CWGC facility in Beaurains, France, for safekeeping.
A combination of examining material evidence, reviewing historical context, forensic anthropological analysis, and DNA testing resulted in the identification of Private Johnston, by DND’s Casualty Identification Program.
“We are honoured to have assisted in bringing this lost soldier, Private Johnston, to the attention of Canadians, as we will be honoured again later this year to mark his grave with a headstone so that he will be lost no longer,” said BGen. (ret’d) David Kettle, Secretary General, the Canadian Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
DND and the CAF have notified family members of Private Johnston. VAC continues to support them as arrangements are made for Private Johnston’s burial later this year. He will be laid to rest at Loos British Cemetery outside Loos-en-Gohelle.
“Private Johnston was only 22 when he gave his life in service to Canada. All that he might have become was cut short so that we might live in peace and freedom. We will lay him to rest with the honour which he and his family deserve in return for their sacrifice,” said Kent Hehr, Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of National Defence.