Private Alexander Johnston

In 2008, human remains were found in Sailly, France. The remains were confirmed as those of Private Alexander Johnston.

Alexander Johnston was born on 20 August 1885 in Coatbridge, Scotland to William and Maggie Johnston.

In the early 1910s he immigrated to Canada along with his family settling in Hamilton, Ontario. Prior to enlistment Johnston was unmarried and worked as a handyman.

On 5 January 1918, Private Johnston was conscripted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He arrived in Liverpool, England in February 1918 and served with the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion (90th Rifles), CEF for six months. This was followed by a brief service with the 54th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Kootenay), CEF in France before being sent to the 78th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Winnipeg Grenadiers) , CEF in September 1918.

The 78th Battalion participated in the attack on Cambrai beginning on 27 September 1918. The Battalion was tasked with taking the line along the Douai-Cambrai Road, followed by the villages of Raillencourt and Sailly. Despite considerable opposition, the battalion captured the Douai-Cambrai line on 28 September 1918. The following day, the battalion came under heavy machine gun fire while crossing the Douai-Cambrai Road. It is likely that this was where Private Johnston and ten other men from the 78th Battalion went missing.

Following the war, Private Johnston’s name was engraved on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial which commemorates Canadian service members killed in France during the First World War and have no known grave.

In July 2008, human remains were found during the construction of a new development outside of Cambrai, France. Artefacts found with the remains indicated that the remains were those of a soldier from the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Included amongst the artefacts were collar badges from the 78th Battalion.

Using historical, genealogical, anthropological and archaeological analysis, the Casualty Identification Program was able to confirm the identity of the remains as Private Alexander Johnston in March 2011.

In October 2011 Private Johnston was interred in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Cantimpré Canadian Cemetery, in Sailly, France, a kilometre away from where he fell. Representatives from the Government of Canada, the local French government and the Canadian Armed Forces were in attendance.

For further information on Private Johnston you can view his personnel file on the Library and Archives Canada website.

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