Department of National Defence

Department of National Defence

October 25, 2011 13:03 ET

Canadian First World War Soldier Buried in France With Full Military Honours

SAILLY-LEZ-CAMBRAI, FRANCE--(Marketwire - Oct. 25, 2011) - Private Alexander Johnston, a Canadian casualty of the First World War whose remains were identified last spring, was buried today with full military honours at Cantimpré Canadian Cemetery, in Sailly-lez-Cambrai, France. In attendance were members of Private Johnston's family, a Canadian Forces contingent, Mr. Marc Lortie, Canadian Ambassador to France as well as other French dignitaries.

"After all these years, we are finally able to commemorate and pay tribute to this great Canadian hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country," said the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence. "By honouring Private Johnston today, we ensure that his courage and personal contribution in ending the Great War will never be forgotten."

Private Alexander Johnston was born in Coatbridge, Scotland on August 20, 1885, and moved to Hamilton, Ontario, in his late twenties. He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 5, 1918, and was taken on strength of the 78th Battalion in the field on September 4, 1918. Private Johnston died during the Battle of the Canal du Nord on September 29, 1918.

During the Battle of the Canal du Nord, which took place in the last 100 days of the First World War, the area of Raillencourt-Sailly, France, was taken by the 4th Canadian Division near the end of September and beginning of October, 1918. The 78th Batallion was tasked with taking the villages of Sailly and Raillencourt following the fight to capture the line along the Douai-Cambrai Road. After crossing the Douai-Cambrai Road, the battalion came under heavy machine gun fire, and Private Johnston was lost during this time.

Veterans Affairs Canada has provided support to the family members of Private Johnston and has also coordinated their participation in the interment ceremony.

"Private Alexander Johnston paid the ultimate price for our country and it is gratifying that we can now properly lay him to rest," said the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Veterans Affairs. "By sharing Private Johnston's story of courage, and others like his, we ensure the sacrifices of all Canadians who lost their lives in war, military conflict and peace live on for generations to come."

Among Private Johnston's family members in attendance was his great grand-niece, Corporal Ann Gregory. A Canadian Forces Reservist and trumpeter with the Governor General's Foot Guards since 1985, Corporal Gregory was asked to perform during her great grand-uncle's burial.

"It was important for me to keep my emotions in check today as I wanted to pay tribute to our family hero with my finest rendition of the Last Post," said Corporal Gregory. "Today was definitely the highlight of my military career, and an incredible experience for us to share as a family."

In July 2008, human remains were discovered in Sailly-lez-Cambrai, France. Found with the remains were two collar badges of the 78th Battalion (Winnipeg Grenadiers). The Directorate of History and Heritage was notified of the discovery in February 2009, and Private Johnston's remains were identified through mitochondrial DNA testing on March 31, 2011.

NOTE TO EDITORS:

Still and video imagery of today's interment ceremony are available on the Canadian Forces Image Gallery site at www.combatcamera.forces.gc.ca.

For more information on the identification process for Private Alexander Johnston, please visit: http://www.forces.gc.ca/site/news-nouvelles/news-nouvelles-eng.asp?id=3971.

Additional information on the Canadian military's involvement in the Battle of the Canal du Nord can be found at the following links:

Library and Archives Canada: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/firstworldwar/025005-1600-e.html.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: http://www.cwgc.org/victory1918/content.asp?menuid=37&submenuid=49&id=49&menuname=Canal+du+Nord&menu=sub.

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