“It isn’t a phone call you receive every day,” Langley Centennial Museum curator Kobi Christian said, 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 216th 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 until November 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.
From left, West Vancouver Legion’s Julie Clements, Langley Museum curator Kobi Christian, and Gerry Vowles, Past President, BC/Yukon Command, Royal Canadian Legion, display the medallion and a photo of Art Johnston.
Langley Museum participating in UFV’s ‘Great War Day’
The University of the Fraser Valley is commemorating the centenary of the First World War, and the Langley Centennial Museum is getting on board.
The University is hosting the event Great War Day: Local Experiences and Legacies on Friday, October 3, which will provide an exceptional opportunity to learn about the Fraser Valley’s connections to the First World War through displays of memorabilia, artifacts, military or civilian representations, and local memories and commemorative projects. Staff from the Langley Centennial Museum will be attending the event and taking some of its collected history along to share.
The event will allow members of the public to learn more about the impact of the War on the Fraser Valley, and in turn make it possible for them to share their own stories, or family legacies, about the Great War. People are invited to bring along memorabilia or treasured family artifacts – photographs, military items, ephemera – to display. Experts will be on hand to help make sense of the strange and inexplicable.
“As far as we know, this is the only event of this kind happening in the Fraser Valley for the Centenary,” noted Robin Anderson, Associate Professor of History at UFV.
The Langley Centennial Museum has recorded Langley’s rich history of this period, including the renaming of local streets for fallen soldiers following the war. And the museum hopes to showcase one of its newest artifacts during the event: a medallion, known as the “Dead Man’s Penny,” issued to the family of Murrayville’s Art Johnston. Johnston died in the French trenches in 1916.
Along with the memorabilia on exhibit and the Langley museum’s display, there will be displays from the Mission Museum & Archives, the Reach in Abbotsford, and the Chilliwack Museum. There will also be presentations by students and faculty, and talks about the First World War throughout the day.
UFV is still looking for exhibitors and people interested in sharing their stories. For more details, contact Angie Reid at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-557-4075.