In 1968 the Atikokan Centennial Museum received a donation of military artifacts from Florence Ransom. One of these artifacts was a Next of Kin War Memorial Plaque featuring the name of her husband, Reginald Ransom. During World War I over 1,000,000 of these plaques were issued to family members in commemoration of those who died in service.
In 2014 our Curator, Lois Fenton, researched Reginald Ransom and the 52nd Battalion he fought with. She noticed that his attestation papers named his next of kin as his mother, Susan. This information showed that Florence and Reginald were married while he was fighting overseas.
Sadly, Reginald Ransom never came home. He died serving our country on February 24th, 1917.
This information made us wonder, how did his new English bride end up living in Atikokan, Ontario?
Reginald became good friends with army mate John Alexander ("Sandy") Johnston. Before his death, he made Sandy promise to take care of Florence if anything should happen to him. Sandy stayed true to his word. The rest of this story will unfold throughout this exhibit as the lives of these two veterans are recounted.
This exhibit was originally put together as a special presentation for the Atikokan cadets, who were getting ready for a trip to Vimy Ridge. The displays were temporary, kept up for only two days. Aside from the cadets, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 145 members were also invited to explore the exhibit space. Due to the exhibit's short duration, we thought that a virtual exhibit was a great way to share these veterans' stories with the local community and other Canadians.
This virtual exhibit is an Atikokan Centennial Museum project. As it is hosted on my private blog, I feel that it is important to acknowledge the people who helped put it together. The local history was researched by Lois Fenton and Sandy Johnston's daughter, Nancy Fotheringham. Nancy kindly loaned many of the objects seen in this blog and this is acknowledged in the photographs' captions. I was responsible for giving the artifacts context through discussions of a broader military history. I also scanned and photographed all of the artifacts. The information presented has been fact-checked by military and medical historian Dr. Adam Montgomery.
Sandy Johnston (1889-1965)
Sandy was born in 1889 in Dresden, Ontario. Like many men of his period, he had different vocations throughout his life. He was mechanically and mathematically inclined, spending time in Detroit learning the mechanics of the new car industry. As a young man he also moved to Port Arthur (present day Thunder Bay) to work as an accountant in the lumber camps. In 1915, shortly after the war erupted, he volunteered for service as a Private in the 52nd battalion. That December, the battalion left for England, and by 1916 he was stationed in France.
The 52nd Battalion was part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). The CEF was "the collective name given to the military structure created in 1914 in which some 620,000 Canadians served overseas during World War I." This Force did not include the Canadians who served in the navy, merchant marine, or the Royal Air Force. In other words, the CEF was "Canada's wartime army overseas." In total, 260 numbered CEF battalions were formed during the war.
Sandy worked within the Canadian Signal Corp, laying and maintaining communication lines. In 1916 he was promoted to Signalling Sergeant. 
Easter weekend of 1917 saw one of Canada's most iconic battles, Vimy Ridge. "Weeks of planning, map-studying and platoon tactics rehearsal climaxed when 15,000 soldiers charged into heavy German machine gun fire, behind a wall of precisely placed Canadian artillery shells." The troops stormed up the ridge, a task which had previously caused 150,000 French and British casualties, and were successful in dislodging the Germans from their strongholds. But this victory did not come without a loss. After three days of fighting 3,598 Canadian troops were dead and 7,000 were wounded. This event was the first time that all divisions of the CEF fought together, and this included Sandy Johnston.
It was also discovered that Sandy fought in the Battle of Passchendaele. In October of 1917 the 52nd Battalion led the 3rd division attack. An October 22, 1917 Battalion War Diary entry stated that he "went forward in busses (sic) to look at the new front line." This information was verified by John Easson, a retired major, after he corresponded with Nancy.
Sandy was awarded the Military Medal for the maintenance of communications while under enemy fire at Vimy Ridge. His award was listed in the London Gazette, 9 July 1917.
Sandy was awarded two other medals for his service, the first being the Allied Victory Medal. Approximately 5.7 million of these medals were issued during the Great War. To be a recipient "an individual had to have entered a theatre of war (an area of active fighting), not just served overseas." The rainbow ribbon represents the combined colours of the Allied nations. The front of the medal depicts a winged classic figure, an image that represents freedom. The back of the medal reads, "The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919." Each allied nation issued a medal of a similar design, similar wording, and identical ribbon.
The second medal was the British War Medal. Approximately 6.4 million of these medals were issued by the British government to those who had represented the British and Imperial Forces at any point of the war.
Before the end of the war, Sandy was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Flying Corp (which later became the Royal Air Force.) Nancy stated that her father "was given the chance to get a commission and learn to fly because of his bravery in the field at Vimy for which he received a Military Medal." Obtaining a position in the Air Force was seen as prestigious, as the task required more skill and innate physical characteristics such as good eyesight. Becoming an air pilot also meant an escape from the trenches. Nancy expressed that, "it was a chance [for her father] to escape with honour." His first flight was in August of 1918; his last was in January 1919.
Reginald Ransom (1887-1916)
Reginald Ransom was born on July 22, 1887 in London, England. His attestation papers stated that he was from O'Connor, Ontario and that he identified as a labourer. He joined the 52nd Battalion in Port Arthur on February 18, 1916.
As mentioned above, Reginald was a casualty of the Great War. Lois states that when, "reading the battalion's war record one feels the impending doom, the great carnage of war, the timeline to his death." He was buried at Petit-Vimy British Cemetery in France.
Florence Ransom (1888-1967)
Reginald's wife, Florence, moved to Canada under Sandy Johnston's care after the war. He provided her employment; she managed his general store in Atikokan for nine years. At this time, the store bought and sold furs in the fur trade. In an Atikokan Progress newspaper article, she fondly recalled her delight in the Indigenous population bringing in furs, stating that it "was a colourful occasion to see them trading their furs far into the night." At this time Atikokan was a very small, remote community with a population of 300. It was so small, in fact, that she recalled there being only two stores. Even after she stopped managing Sandy's store, Florence remained close to the Johnston family for many years.
Florence remained a widow for the rest of her life. She was very active in Legion activities, and it can be assumed that this was a way to honour her late husband. Below, among other notable artifacts, note her Certificate of Merit, awarded to her by the Ladies Auxiliary of the 145 Legion branch.
Sandy Johnston Post WWI
After the war, Sandy spent a year working as a demobilization officer in Port Arthur. He then became owner of the McKenzie Inn, east of Thunder Bay. As alluded to above, in 1925 he moved to Atikokan, where he purchased a general store from the town's founder, Tom Rawn. In addition to buying and selling furs, he acted as the postmaster for the community until 1947. He continued his military service later in life. During the Second World War he served as a recruiting officer for the Port Arthur area. After that endeavour he owned and operated the Imperial Oil Agency in Atikokan until his retirement in 1953. On top of his other great achievements, Sandy also served as reeve of Atikokan for five years, 1956-1960.
Throughout his life, Sandy maintained a strong interest in the Canadian Legion, Atikokan Branch No. 145. In fact, he served as its president from 1941 to 1948. The Legion offered a place for returning veterans to come together to discuss their shared experiences.
Sandy married Myrtle Rawn and they had three daughters: Judy and twins Nancy and Patricia. Although he had a rich post-war life, injuries to his feet were a silent reminder of what he had endured.
A museum label of Atikokan's World War I Veterans. This information was taken from an Atikokan War Veterans database created by Adam Montgomery & Stephanie Bellissimo on behalf of the Atikokan Centennial Museum. All Atikokan war veterans' gravestones with visible military markings were photographed and compiled into a list. This list is not conclusive. If a veteran chose not to have any military insignia on their stones, or if they were buried outside of Atikokan, their information was not included. If you have someone to add, please let us know! Leave a comment below. Include the person's name, corp, rank, birth and death dates (if known) and we will update our records.
This exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the battle at Vimy Ridge and the sacrifices that individuals, communities and the nation made for our freedom. Commemoration is important; however, events like these should not just be remembered on anniversaries. It is important to take a moment every now and then to acknowledge the ever-enduring strength of the human spirit to fight for what is believed to be right. Many of these men paid the ultimate sacrifice for their convictions. Reginald's inscription of "death before dishonor" inside his Bible (seen above) speaks to this. We are eternally grateful for these men's brave actions. They will always be remembered.
 The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque & Scroll. http://www.greatwar.co.uk/memorials/memorial-plaque.htm (accessed February 27, 2017)
 Information gathered from Sandy Johnston's military records, form R-122, Reg'l No 438593.
 J.L. Granatstein and Dean Oliver. The Oxford Companion to Canadian Military History (Oxford University Press, 2011), 85.
 Philip J. Haythornthwaite. The World War One Source Book (London : Arms and Armour, 1992) 159.
 Ibid., 159.
 Information gathered from Sandy Johnston's military records, form R-122, Reg'l No 438593.
 Canadian Geographic and the Walrus, The Story of Canada in 150 Objects: Collector's Edition, 2017., 14.
 War Diary, 52nd Battalion, Army Form C. 2118., October 22, 1917.
 Philip J. Haythornthwaite. The World War One Source Book, 161.
 Unknown author, Service Chevrons, http://www.canadiansoldiers.com/insignia/service.htm (accessed February 27, 2017)
 Imperial War Museums. British World War One Service Medals, http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/first-world-war-service-medals (accessed February 17, 2017)
 Information recorded in Sandy Johnston's Flight Training Manual.
 Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Reginald Joseph Ransom, http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/531249/RANSOM,%20REGINALD%20JOSEPH (accessed February 27, 017)
 Atikokan Progress. Roles as Early Shopkeeper Here Recalled by Mrs. Flo Ransome, date unknown. [throughout the records Ransom was either spelled "Ransome" or "Ransom." The Museum has chosen to use "Ransom" as this is how the name is spelled on official records.
 Atikokan Progress. J.A. Johnston Obituary, May 13, 1965.