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War medallion returns home

West Vancouver Legion’s Julie Clements (left to right), Langley Museum curator Kobi Christian, and Gerry Vowles, Past President, BC/Yukon Command, Royal Canadian Legion, displaying the medallion and a photo of Art Johnston. - submitted photo
West Vancouver Legion’s Julie Clements (left to right), Langley Museum curator Kobi Christian, and Gerry Vowles, Past President, BC/Yukon Command, Royal Canadian Legion, displaying the medallion and a photo of Art Johnston.
— image credit: submitted photo

“It isn’t a phone call you receive every day,” Langley Centennial Museum curator Kobi Christian stated, looking at the museum’s newest acquisition: a bronze medallion featuring the name of Langley’s Arthur Thomas Johnston.

The medallions were memorial plaques issued after World War I to the next-of-kin of killed British Empire service personnel.  Because of the bronze colour and the sombre reason for the medallions, they came to be known as the “Dead Man’s Penny.”

In early 1914, with war not yet declared, Murrayville storekeeper Art Johnston had helped to organize and train a group of military-minded men known as the “Langley Volunteers.”

Many of these men went on to service in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

Johnston was sent overseas and died in the French trenches in 1916.

Julie Clements of the West Vancouver Legion found the item in their collection, but did not know how it had come to be there.  She did some research and learned that Johnston was a Langley resident, and realized that it needed to return to Langley, Johnston’s home.

She contacted Christian, who noted that the Langley Centennial Museum only had one other, in the name of Langley’s Francis Hubert Read.

After the war, Langley streets were renamed for those who had lived here and been killed in the war.  The Johnston Townline Road was named in his honour (now 216 Street through Milner and Murrayville).  In addition, trees were planted along the renamed street in honour of the men, and Johnston’s tree still stands at the corner of 216 Street and Glover Road in Milner.  Several years ago, the Langley Heritage Society placed markers at the bases of the remaining trees in commemoration.

The Langley Centennial Museum is currently preparing for an upcoming exhibit titled “Mementos & Memories: Langley & the Second World War,” on display from Aug. 17 to Nov. 11.

There are also plans in place for a Great War exhibit in 2017, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Canada’s involvement at the battle of Vimy Ridge.

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