Ethel and Caroline had an amazing trip to Arras, France. Their principal purpose was to lay to rest Ethel’s uncle, Private Reginald Johnston, a Canadian soldier who died one hundred years ago at the Battle of Hill 70 in World War One. His remains were discovered in 2011, and identification confirmed in time for the 100th anniversary of the battle.
Ethel and Caroline had an amazing amount of support from Veteran’s Affairs, from the Highland Regiment, and from various people such as a historian at Vimy Ridge, a scientist who ran the DNA tests that confirmed Reginald’s identity, and an owner of a private museum in Loos.
They were also helped by several complete strangers, such as a man who walked them to a restaurant, and airline staff who helped by taking wheelchairs beyond their assigned areas.
My favourite little story from the expedition was that when they arrived at what was once the front line at the battlefield, Ethel was told that she could stay on the minibus rather than struggle down into the ditch that was once a trench. She said she didn’t come all that way to sit in the bus.
There was a CBC crew tagging along, so there will be some coverage and probably a documentary piece. Hill 70 has never been a very well known battle, having been long overshadowed by the famous Vimy Ridge, but now a new monument has been erected to commemorate those who were lost there.
The schedule was pretty grueling, with back to back twelve hour days, and even longer days of travel from Canada to France and back again, but everyone made it home in good shape and with the afterglow of something well done.